Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"Engaging young voters a top priority"

Interesting article in today's Daily Evergreen:
WSU professor says students typically vote less than other age demographics.

Student voting remains a shady area that individuals and groups at all ends of the political spectrum are trying to define by engaging young voters and getting them to the polls.

With the Nov. 7 election drawing near, time is running out. Saturday is the last day
to register to vote.

Whitman County Auditor Eunice Coker said voter registration for mail-in voting closes 30 days before Election Day, and said people have to register at least 15 days before Election Day to vote in person.

Yet the methods used to get people to vote do not change for young people, she said.

“What we do for students are what we do for everyone,” Coker said.

WSU political science professor David Nice said students typically vote less than other age demographics.

Nice said students and their interests tend to get neglected by politicians because students are not as politically active, and politicians tend to keep their active program clienteles happy.

“Whereas, if you neglect the interests of young people, most of them don’t vote,” he said. “So politically, it’s safer.”

Students also tend to not have strong party loyalties and have competing priorities of getting settled and starting a career, Nice said. Individuals who are not geographically settled usually do not get politically active.

Travis Ridout, assistant professor of political science, said students do not become involved in the community because they are somewhat transient and are not set in their political beliefs.

“They’re not really anchored to this area,” Ridout said.

Many students vote in their hometown elections instead of Pullman

Ridout said the 18-to-22 age set tends to vote at a low rate, and that rate slowly increases as people get older, until about 70, when physical frailties could prevent people from going out and voting.

Getting young students to vote is a challenge for Democrats and Republicans, said Christopher Del Beccaro, a senior history major and communication director for the College Republicans.

Both groups are doing as much as possible to get students to vote, he said.

“You just have to find something that galvanizes students,” Del Beccaro said. “I think a lot of students seem to be cynical about the whole process. I wish people didn’t necessarily think like that, because their vote really does count.”

He said a candidate’s repetition and having a young person ask students if they have registered or voted are important to getting students to vote.

Andrew Goodin, a junior chemistry major and president of the Young Democrats, said the organization has done door-belling and tried to reach out to students. He said the group plans on promoting discussion about global warming and student debt.

“We are doing everything we can to promote involvement on campus,” Goodin said.

Being able to tell what party most students vote for is difficult, Ridout said.

Ridout said he did a survey of political science students with a colleague at the University of Idaho in 2004, and found that presidential candidate John Kerry had a slight lead among students. The survey was not a random sampling.

He also said looking at precinct maps could shed some light onto the way students vote.

However, Coker said looking at the precinct maps may not be accurate because, in Washington state, voters do not register by party.

Goodin said that when students vote, Democrats usually win. Because students tend to be more progressively minded, they often vote for Democrats who emphasize education and other issues important to students.

Del Beccaro disagreed.

He said there is a general assumption that young people vote democratic, but students who are Republican tend to be quieter about it. Students may be afraid to speak out in class and express their conservative viewpoints, Del Beccaro said.

Within political groups, there is also a concern that student involvement is declining and that students are not stepping up to be future leaders, Nice said.

“Some of these groups, they’re more than worried – they’re scared,” Nice said. “There’s going to have to be a new generation of leaders in these political groups within the next 20 years.”

Many groups are interested in getting young people involved, he said.

Elinor McCloskey, treasurer and membership chairwoman for the Pullman chapter of the League of Women Voters, said the organization has struggled with student membership because students tend to lead busy lives.

“We’re lucky if we have one, and we’re really elated if we have two,” McCloskey said.

Whenever there is an opportunity to have a presence on campus, the league tries to be there, she said.

“The parties are eager to get students involved, to get their input,” McCloskey said. “It is so important that everybody vote.”
So, I think we've now established that students disenfranchise themselves, not Wes Taylor and the Whitman County Republican Party or Eunice Coker.

An example of this, as I recently pointed out, was the fact that not one ballot from Precinct 132, which encompasses quite a bit of campus housing near the main entrance to WSU, was cast in the September 19 primary.

WSU students, please add your comments.

1 comment:

April E. Coggins said...

The only way to engage the students is to give them a realistic hope that Pullman will be their home after graduation. The politically aware students who do vote, will continue to vote where they anticipate their future. Unfortunately, Pullman and Whitman County does not have the economy to offer a future to 99% of WSU graduates. Sadly, most students never regard Pullman as their home, this is simply a place to go to college. The message the no-growth, no-sprawl activists send to young people is that there is no more room for any new ideas or any new people.