Who Cares?

Illustration by Dan McDonald

College students’ apathy toward politics leads to low voter turnout according to one expert

By Kim Hartman

College students can change the world. But do they believe they can?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 57.6 percent of 18 to 24 year olds vote. It’s the lowest of any age group. However, the figure jumps up to 81.2 percent among the same demographic for registered voters.

How to Register to Vote

“I think the main reason that college students take less interest in politics is merely their lifestyle,” said Art Vanden Houten, political science professor. “Students have lots of obligations — jobs, clubs, schoolwork. They have active social lives, don’t have much income and don’t have much time. They are very busy people.”

According to Vanden Houten, students, because they live away from home, aren’t as invested into local politics. “Once they leave college and become home owners, they will have the time and money to spend on political involvement and have a bigger stake in where they are,” he said.

Midterm elections are Nov. 7, and the results could shift the balance of Congress. In this election, some major positions in Florida up for grabs are governor, members of the House of Representatives and one seat in the Senate. What can students do to get involved, despite their busy schedules?

“Reading a daily newspaper or talking with a friend about current events are a couple ways,” said Flagler alumnus Paul Gould, 22. “However, the most politically active action would be voting in elections. If someone chooses not to vote, then they are giving up their voice in bringing an issue to the forefront.”

Students can register to vote online, at the post office, the Division of Motor Vehicles, public libraries, Supervisor of Elections office or the local party headquarters. Those who are registered to vote in other counties or states can order an absentee ballot from their county’s Supervisor of Elections Web site.

“People need to stop deferring their responsibility by saying, ‘Oh, one vote doesn’t count,'” Amber Hannah, member of the Political Guild said. “We need to have the maturity to shift that responsibility onto ourselves.”

Gould, founder of the Facebook group Flagler Republicans, suggests that students figure out which political party they wish to affiliate themselves with, and then use the Internet to become involved with a party or candidate.

In terms of expedited ways to choose candidates, liberal studies professor Rachel Cremona, sponsor of the political guild, recommends finding a viewpoint that a person feels strongly about and then selecting the representatives who are compatible with that.

“Find a pet issue and see who’s going to support that issue,” Cremona said. “Especially in midterm elections, where the candidates’ platforms are so similar, it’s dangerous to just vote along party lines. On the local level, you could have a pro-life Democrat. I mean, you just never know until you look it up.”

Despite the numerous obligations of a college student, some are overcoming the political apathy attributed to hectic schedules.

For instance, communication major Mary Angelini stays active through the Human Rights Campaign, a Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transsexual advocacy group. Through her membership, she receives information, signs petitions and stays up-to-date with current issues.

“I was raised knowing that people deserve equality,” Angelini said. “Not just some people, but all people. Now that it affects me and my life, I have become more involved. If I’m not going to do it, then who is?”

Angelini says students can get politically involved by finding an organization that supports an issue they are passionate about.

Flagler students’ biggest concerns range from international affairs to the freedom to make personal choices in daily life.

“Politics is not about parties—it’s about issues,” Flagler alumnus Greg Deerkoski, 23, said. “It’s about what your values are, what you believe in and what you stand for.”

While attending Flagler, Deerkoski was a history major and president of the Political Guild. He believes that diminishing attention on education by politicians is the most pressing issue for college students.

“Education has really been put on the back burner,” Deerkoski said. “There are a lot of students who want to learn but are unable to because of financial shortages. More money needs to be put into that. And improvements like better teachers, better supplies, better teacher-to-student ratio, smaller class size — all of these things require money. There needs to be more emphasis on funding education.”

Deerkoski also thinks there should be encouragement in the classroom by teachers and parents to get youth politically involved.

“Teachers need to be saying, ‘This is your right — exercise it’,” he said. “Nowadays, youth are a reflection of their parents, so they should get their children interested. It’s authority figures’ responsibility to get youth informed.”

Craig Shoup, current president of the Political Guild, said that a teacher during high school really made an effort to get her students involved.

“She passed out voters’ registration forms and said ‘OK, we’re going to fill these out today’,” Shoup said. “Teachers need to push political activeness early, because the older you get, the harder it is to get involved.”

“It’s hard,” Mike Jones, member of the Political Guild, said. “You look at representatives and they’re so different from us — they don’t have the same income, most of them aren’t anywhere near our age, they don’t come from average or disenchanted circumstances. So it’s hard for me to believe that they can relate to, you know, a 20-year-old college student.”

Running for St. Johns County Commissioner for District 2, Ken Bryan spoke at a Political Guild meeting on Sept. 21. The Democratic candidate discussed his platform and the importance of midterm elections, in which less than 25 percent of the population votes (according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)

“If you write to the President [of the United States] about a local concern, he’s not going to do anything,” Bryan said. “But if you write to your County Commissioner, he can assess that and potentially improve the situation. He’s going to hear the voice of the community and involve the citizens in the decision-making process.”

Ron Sanchez, Bryan’s opponent, came and addressed the Political Guild on Thursday, Oct. 5. He talked about his platform, composed of growth, budget, as well as current local issues.

“In order to run for County Commissioner, you have to be self-employed, very wealthy, or retired,” Sanchez said. “That’s a shame. I would like to see more candidates — say, six or seven — and then let the voters weed them out. That’s the way it should be.”

To increase awareness about midterm elections, the Political Guild is organizing events this semester. On Tuesday, Oct. 10, a table will be in the breezeway for student sign ups to volunteer and participate in the political process. On election day, there will be a victory party, where students can follow the results. Guild member Jonathan Growick says he plans on getting a caterer for the occasion.

“The state and local elections are the ones that have the greatest impact on people,” Growick said. “They affect people personally. They have a direct effect on citizens’ lives.”
So can college students make a difference?

“The belief that you can make a difference is what ultimately separates those who are politically involved and those who aren’t,” Cremona said. “That’s really what I think it comes down to —that belief.”

The 2000 Presidential election came down to a separation of only 537 votes out of more than 5.8 million Floridians who voted.

A few hundred more votes could have swung the whole election, not just for Florida but the entire nation. So college students can, indeed, change the world.

“It’s not the older generations that are going to carry this country — it’s us,” Deerkoski said. “We are the future of America. It’s our country. We need to get out there and claim it.”

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