U. Kansas Students Follow National Voting Trend

This story was written by Sasha Roe, University Daily Kansan
Ron Paul? Never heard of the guy. Mitt Romney? Is he running for President? With one year until the 2008 Presidential election, University of Kansas students' answers to election questions reflect the national trend. College students just aren't as informed or as active as they could be.

Kathleen Barr, director of research and education for Rock the Vote, said getting students to vote was important mainly because of the sheer size of the youth vote. She said there had been a reemergence of youth participation, but there was a long way to go for both candidates and young voters.

"Students could definitely help make or break the election," Barr said.

Renee Robinson, Lawrence senior, said she wasn't interested in the election or the issues. She said she would probably vote for Barack Obama, and was a member of the "Barack Chalk Jayhawks" Facebook group. Keaton Hilst, Hutchinson junior, also said that election coverage wasn't a priority for him, and believed it just wasn't targeted enough to college students.

However, Angela McNulty, Olathe senior, said she had watched a few debates, and tried to keep up with the election as much as possible. She said she was waiting to see Obama and Clinton's stances on gay marriage before she made her decision.

"I know what I want," McNulty said. "But I definitely hang out with some people that are not as informed as they should be."

Jerry Austin, president of the political and public relations firm Gerald J. Austin and Associates, Inc., and a Fall 2007 Dole Institute fellow, said the vote of college students was very important in presidential elections. He said every year one million 17-year-olds turned 18, and over four years between each presidential election that produced a potential four million new voters for candidates. Austin said the unfortunate reality was the number of youth registered to vote wasn't anywhere near the number of those eligible to vote.

"The problem is, even though young people have shown an interest in the 2004 and 2006 elections, they still do not vote based upon what their numbers suggest," Austin said. "They could be a force, but if you don't register and you don't vote, you're not a force."

Sara Kiszka, Leavenworth sophomore, said she wasn't registered to vote, and Natalie Rodriguez, Belleville, Ill. sophomore, said that because she was out-of-state it was difficult to remember to get an absentee ballot sent to Kansas.

According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning, the 18- to 24-year-old vote increased in the 2004 presidential election by 11 percent from 2000. Until 2004, the youth voter turnout had decreased by 16 percent between 1972 and 2000. The youth vote still lags behind the older adult vote with 47 percent of 18 to 24-year-old citizens voting, and 66 percent of 25 and older voting.

Austin said motivation and assisting students in the registration process were the main factors in youth involvement. He said it was important for candidates and organizations to go where young people hang out, and encourage them to vote.

"I use the phrase, 'when you go duck hunting, you have to go where the ducks are,'" Austin said.

Barr said the Rock the Vote site, www.rockthevote.com, had an easy "Register to Vote" link available for students from every state.

Politicians have also been using the Internet to appeal to college voters. Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube have been popular sites to show support for candidates. Facebook features election applications, and allows students to add candidates as friends and join support groups. U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has been the most successful on the site with 157,896 friends, and 382,202 in the group "One Million Strong for Barack."

Astin said the Internet had changed everything by providing more information and visual aspects that attracted young voters. He said this election would reveal the power of the social network sites had on youth involvement.

Barr said appealing to students through pop culture, and technology was a good first step because that was where to find students. She said the use of social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace could only be useful if the politicians actually reached out and got the 20,000 "friends" involved.

Austin said there was a lot of interest in the upcoming election, especially with the possibility of the first African American or female president. He said he hoped the students realized they had a worldwide as well as national impact.

"The American election is looked by the world more than any other election," Austin said. "Yet we still have a problem getting people to participate."
© 2007 University Daily Kansan via U-WIRE