An informal survey recently conducted by The Reflector on the subject of student political involvement has found a change in political identity and involvement.
Of 75 students, ranging in class rank from undergraduate to post-graduate students, 48 percent declared themselves to be independent voters. Thirty-two percent reported that they were registered members of the Republican Party, while 20 percent reported that they were registered members of the Democratic Party.
The poll found low involvement in the recent midterm elections. Only 12 percent of those registered to vote did so.
Those numbers did not extend to plans for 2016, however. Seventy-six percent of respondents reported that they planned to vote in the next presidential election. Three percent said that they did not plan to vote for the president, while the remaining 21 percent were unsure.
Average party affiliation has changed since 2008, according to a similar survey reported by The Reflector in its Oct. 29 issue of that year. Forty-four percent of respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 36 percent identified themselves as Republicans and 20 percent identified themselves as independent voters.
According to civicyouth.org, only 62.1 percent of registered voters with at least some college experience turned out to vote in the 2008 presidential election between Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain. That number was down ten points from the 1972 presidential election between Senator George McGovern and Republican President Richard Nixon.
The same website reported that for the 2010 midterms, 34.7 percent of college students said they did not vote because they were too busy, while 12.2 percent said they were not interested.
Johanna Richardson, a first-year occupational therapy graduate student, describes herself as politically involved.
“That’s the point of America,” she said. “I think if you’re going to live in a country where you have the freedom to make a difference in how it runs—and we’re one of the few countries that you do have an opportunity to make a difference—I think it’s a bit asinine to not take part.”
Richardson said she believed that low political involvement is caused by a lack of faith in the ability of a voter to affect real change.
“I think people are frustrated with how it works. They feel like nothing’s working,” she said. “They think, ‘I’ll never really make a difference. One vote can’t make a difference.’”
Richardson said that she did not think one vote could make a difference either, but that one movement could.
Associate professor of history and political science and director for the Institute for Civic Leadership and Mayoral Archives Ted Frantz was not surprised by the amount of political apathy.
“There are a lot of reasons why people who are undergraduates now might find politics off-putting,” he said.
“I would say there have probably been very few events in their lifetime where they could look to politics as having had positive outcomes,” Frantz said. “I think it’s understandable, and yet lamentable at the same time.”
Frantz said that the definition of positive events would vary based on a person’s stance on major issues and his or her party affiliation. He also said that the large showing from independent voters demonstrates that they may not yet know which of the two parties they agree with most, or they are genuinely tired of both parties. Frantz recalled the 2008 election as being one that motivated the campus community.
“2008, with Obama running against McCain, looked like it was going to be a time with a lot more engagement,” he said. “For a number of factors, that didn’t happen. But that was about the closest we had to an energized political campus since I’ve been here, since 2002. . . . Since then, it really has deteriorated.”
Religion major and first-year occupational therapy student Lauryn Steffe is registered to vote but has not yet done so.
“For me, the main barrier for not voting is that I don’t feel like I’m informed enough,” she said. “And I haven’t personally taken the steps to become informed, because I have no idea where to start. I have no idea how to parse through the information being thrown at me to determine what is good information and what is bad information.”
Frantz said that students need to pay attention and care about the system, because government affects everyone.
“If you think that both sides are terrible, then the only way to truly change that is to get people who you think are going to change the system itself,” he said. “I don’t see—the way our system works—the likelihood of a third party really, truly being successful given the entrenched powers that be. But there’s no reason those entities themselves can’t look different.”