LEXINGTON, Va. – This weekend, Washington and Lee University students may give America a clue about the presidential race.
For more than 100 years, the school has made a prediction about who the presidential nominee will be for the out-of-power party at its Mock Convention.
Students began day one Friday with a 50-float parade through downtown Lexington. They’ll hear from nationally-recognized speakers before the delegation votes and the decision is announced Saturday.
It’s a big-budget event as students are in full control and have $1 million at their disposal. It’s drawn praise from the Washington Post and Time Magazine, and the students have correctly predicted the nominee 20 out of 26 times, including selecting Donald Trump four years ago.
The energy was high Friday morning as students and onlookers cheered in the streets.
“I think it’s a cool way for the school to come together. So many students participate. It’s really amazing to see everyone out here,” freshman Sarah Allen said.
Student leaders say around 1,700 students take part, which is about 95% of the student body. They packed into the school’s tennis facility Friday afternoon, listening to the first round of speakers.
“I think it’s pretty special. It speaks to how good of a place W&L is, that its students can conduct such serious research and get such good results,” sophomore Jens Ames said.
They’re taking a deep dive into the world of politics.
“It’s been a really good experience. I think it’s a really great way of involving all the students on campus,” sophomore Xing Teng.
Big names who will speak on Saturday, include Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” and former Florida governor candidate Andrew Gillum.
With polls showing a wide range of outcomes this year, making a correct prediction won’t be easy.
Older students like event chair Jimmy Fleck, a senior, have been working on this for four years.
“We’ve been building this machine and to finally turn it on and let it run it is pretty impressive and exciting,” Fleck said.
They hope debate leads to a careful consideration of which candidate will win.
“To push back on ideas, not get wrapped up with one idea, to really challenge the ways that we’re thinking,” he said.
They’re looking at polling data and they’ve spoken to party officials in key states.
“I have a lot of faith in our political team as well as our state chairs. They’ve been researching for months and I’m completely confident that we’ll get this one right,” Fleck said.
Student leaders say the decision should be announced around 5 p.m. Saturday.