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It’s Our Future. Do We Care? Student Involvement in the Presidential Race

Morgan Austin

With the presidential race underway, candidates are vying for the attention of voters. But are their flamboyant campaigns enough to grab the notice of college students? One of the most lagging voter bases, citizens between age 18 and 34, has dipped to a surprising low, according to historical voting rates collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The percentage of voters in that age bracket, dwindling to 22.8% in the 2012 election year, has fallen 1.6% since 2008. Will voting in 2016 see another downslide in numbers?

For the millennial generation, says Katelyn Hartwig, a member of the MSU student organization, ‘Generation Action,’ the answer is "no" for declining involvement.

“I really believe a lot of the students are very involved. People want change. I just think it’s more or less our generation. Our generation is a huge generation of wanting to see change within the community and we want to make a difference.”

Generation action, one of many political student organizations on campus, works with a branch of Planned Parenthood to “fight for social justice,” says Hartwig. As a newer organization of only 15 members, the group has taken to social media to inform the public about issues concerning them; a similarity that connects them to an opposing organization on campus.

Asher Allman, chairman of the MSU College Republicans, says that social media is a gateway to reaching college students.

“We are very active on Twitter. We are thoroughly active as well on Facebook. We utilize social media because that is one of the places where college students are.” 

College Republicans, one of the larger and more active political student organizations on campus, helps to connect right-leaning students to the political process. The group, with about 20 members, participates in local and state-wide campaigns, brings in local officials and policy experts to talk at meetings and is involved in student outreach programs to spread the word about issues that are important to them.

Allman, like Hartwig, sees this presidential race as a chance for college-age citizens to raise the voting numbers.

“There seems to be a relatively high level of interest this early in the race. Granted being young, this is really only the fourth go-around of my life that I can kind of remember. Even people that aren’t super politically engaged for one reason or another see the presidential candidates, know kind of who they are, and are engaged.”

Several students who were recently interviewed at the MSU library, had similar thoughts about voting. Missouri State student Beth Bleil, a registered voter, sums up their feelings.

“It’s just being a part of society; voting. I think it’s a civic duty. I think a lot of kids our age don’t know much about the actual race and so maybe they’re feeling they don’t know enough to have a responsible vote. Other than that, I think that a lot of kids don’t think it’s going to affect them.”

Voter malaise is something that all generations encounter, but nearly all of the students interviewed listed it as the main reason why voter turn-out for their age bracket has been so down. Jamahl Bonds, another MSU student, thinks that people feel that their voice won’t count.

“I would say some people don’t really know if they can make a difference in voting. Some people just don’t know what candidate to vote for.”

Despite the question of having a meaningful vote, nearly all students interviewed thought of voting as a citizen’s responsibility. Around the Ozarks, colleges students are showing their civic involvement by participating in student lead political organizations. Missouri Southern, Evangel, and Drury all have political minded groups where students can gather and discuss the importance of actively selecting the next presidential candidate.

Dr. Daniel Ponder, a political science professor at Drury University and advisor to the student-led College Democrats, says that although involvement ramps up during presidential election year, the activism isn’t dormant in regular years. 

“There have been election watch parties, debate watch parties, panel discussion; student panel discussions about the debates and candidates. It tends to be very active.  There’s ebb and flow with the political system, and so naturally it tends to be a little more active at election time.”

As the song and dance for the coming election year starts to play out, civic participation changes. According to the Greene County Clerk’s office, the number of registered voters ages 18-22 currently totals 11,964. 1,100 of those voters just registered last month.

Student activism and social media spread the word about the future of American politics to college-goers. Their hope: to change the world one vote, one person at a time.

For more information on voting numbers,  “Who Votes?”  from the U.S. Census Bureau or contact your local county clerk’s office.