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Students to impact 2012 presidential race

September 27, 2012

For the majority of students at UW-River Falls, Nov. 6, 2012, will be the first time they are able to vote in a presidential election. Even though the right to vote when one turns 18 is considered a very important privilege in the United States, it may not be enough to get college students to the polls.

In 2008, when UWRF senior, Lindsey Bierwerth, could vote for the fi rst time, she was not going to pass up that opportunity. As a senior in high school at the time, it was a very exciting new thing for her. She said that she will be voting again in this election, but she just does not know how many of her fellow students will.

“There was so much excitement around voting among young people when Obama was running four years ago, but this time around, there just really isn’t the same hype.”

As student membership in political organizations on campus has risen over the past few years, it may seem as though young people are becoming more interested and more involved in politics on campus. However, there is still question as to whether the number of students who will vote in the 2012 presidential election will be anywhere near the voter turnout of the election in 2008.

According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), “youth (18-29) voter turnout rose to 51 percent in 2008.”

The increase was attributed to the fact that President Barack Obama campaigned heavily to the student voter population when he was running in 2008, but there is not that same attempt to gain younger voters this time around.

UWRF Associate Professor of Political Science Neil Kraus, explains that Obama has definitely made an appearance at colleges across the nation, but just not as extensively as in his campaigning in 2008. He states that Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, has also visited some campuses, but that the youth vote just does not seem to be a top priority for either candidate.

“It doesn’t seem to be as significant as the last election. I’m not saying students are disinterested completely, but it seems that the interest has fallen off a bit. The 2008 election was such a peak in young peoples’ interest that it is kind of hard to sustain that really.”

Even though many students may not have as much interest, it doesn’t mean that there are not plenty of students on this campus who are excited about exercising their right to vote.

Henrik Jorgenson, UWRF freshman, will be voting for the first time and he explains that his reason for voting is because his parents have always been very political and so it is just something that is a big part of his family. He agreed that most first time voters are probably really excited to vote, but that he hasn’t really seen that excitement among other freshman at UWRF. College Republicans and the College Democrats at UWRF are urging students to get out and vote in the upcoming elections through a variety of ways.

Avery Hildebrand, co-chair of the College Democrats, explained that they are providing non-partisan voter registration on campus when possible and providing students with sample ballot and voting location information. The College Republicans have multiple speakers coming to campus and are providing opportunities for students to come together and watch some of the upcoming debates in the Kinni Theater.

“I really feel like students may not be as energized about this election as they have been in the past, but if the people on campus who are passionate about politics are more vocal and show their enthusiasm, maybe it can help spread the excitement and make students more aware,” Vice Chair of the College Republicans Hannah Carlson said.

Carlson said that she believes a big issue that students may be concerned about going into this election is the job market. Many students will be graduating this year or in the next few years and they will want to know that there is a positive outlook for them in finding a job.

Issues like the economy and health care are some of the big ticket items, but Kraus thinks that for students, things like college loans are at the top of their important issues list. Kraus said that students have been asking questions in his classes about the candidates’ opinions on certain issues so he knows that for some students the stance taken on issues by the candidates may be a deciding factor for them on whether or not to vote and who to vote for. Hildebrand stresses that no matter what your motivation, voting is extremely important, especially for students. He says it is not just important for the presidential election, but for state and local elections as well.

“Voting is what Democracy is all about, and young people need to have their voices heard.”