Poll: Penn State Students Show Political Support Online

This story was written by Katharine Lackey, Daily Collegian
With the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, young voters may influence the election not only through their votes, but also through their online involvement.

In a recent poll from the Harvard University Institute of Politics, more than 60 percent of college respondents indicated they were likely to support a presidential candidate by joining online groups on popular social networking Web sites such as Facebook.com and MySpace.com.

"I think the reason we're getting these students more involved in politics is because the Internet is something they like to use," said Nichola Gutgold, associate professor of communications arts and sciences at Pennsylvania State University Lehigh Valley. "Young people like social networking sites ... and I think people like [Stephen] Colbert and Jon Stewart have made them more interested in politics."

Alyssa Nadel (junior-elementary education), who said she would be voting in the presidential election, added that it was too early in the race for her to get involved in online groups.

"I think, for me, it's going to come down after the primaries are over," she said. "I think it will be more important for me later on."

The poll also showed that 75 percent of college respondents said they would "definitely" or "probably" be voting in the 2008 presidential election. However, J. Michael Hogan, professor of communication arts and sciences, said this figure is exaggerated.

"People tend to say they're going to vote, but the overall turnout for the general population is 50 percent," he said. "There are signs that young people may be getting a little more interested in politics and appreciating the significance of voting."

Ashley Banaszak (senior-elementary education) said she has not been following the campaign closely thus far, but will pay attention once the candidate field is narrowed down.

"Normally, I wasn't really concerned with what the candidates were saying," she said, "but now that I'm graduating, and it's really going to affect my career, I'm concerned about it."

According to the poll, the most important issue for college students in the upcoming election is the Iraq War. Allyson Patton (senior-elementary education), who also said she would be voting in the election, indicated that the war would be on her mind during the election.

"I think it's pointless that we're over there, and its time for everyone to come home and [President George W.] Bush to get out of office and get someone new," she said.

Gutgold said the overall involvement of young voters in the election leaves her mind at ease about the next generation of Americans.

"I'm not nervous about whose hands this country will be in when my time is over," she said.

The poll was conducted on the Internet, a fact that makes James Eisenstein, a political science professor, skeptical about the results.

"I think you have to take the findings with a grain of salt because there may be problems with the sample ... people who use the Internet a lot will be more comfortable taking this survey," he said.
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