According to a Harvard University Institute of Politics poll released late last month, student turnout for today’s election will far exceed that of four years ago.
Despite feeling that the country is headed in the wrong direction, students seem optimistic that political participation is an effective means of forcing change, the poll said.
This is in stark contrast to the 2000 election, when few young voters made their way to the polls and 2.7 percent of the popular vote went to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader – not to the major parties.
The Harvard poll, which contacted 1,202 students at four-year colleges and universities across the country, indicated that students consider the economy and Iraq to be the two most important issues influencing their votes for president today.
In a separate, informal sampling of 21 University of Minnesota students in and around Coffman Union last week, the two student issues cited most often were education and Iraq, followed closely by health care.
In most other ways, University of Minnesota students contacted by The Minnesota Daily gave answers that mirrored their counterparts nationwide.
In both groups, a new willingness to vote for one of the two major party candidates appears to be driving students to the polls.
In the Harvard study, 84 percent of respondents said they would “definitely” be voting or had voted, while another 7 percent said they would “probably” vote. Only 6 percent said they “probably won’t” vote.
All of the students who spoke with the Daily said they will vote, describing themselves as either “very likely” or “100 percent” certain they will make it to the polls today.
Of these students, all but one said they were already registered. The one unregistered student said she intends to register when she goes to her polling place and expressed mild embarrassment at her failure to preregister.
The Harvard study indicates 87 percent of students around the country are registered to vote, up from 73 percent in April 2000.
The Harvard study also shows more students are volunteering for political campaigns – up from 7 percent four years ago to 14 percent last month – and that 32 percent of college students have attended political rallies this year.
Of the Minnesota students contacted, 19 percent said they had volunteered on a political campaign.
Students express interest
The numbers are not surprising to some University of Minnesota students.
“Students are much more optimistic and much more involved in this year’s political campaign,” General College student Justin Barkley said.
Senior Serena Pierson said, “It’s different in that those
who have a strong opinion feel they need to vote for one of the
major party candidates because voting for a third party candidate will let their opponent win.”
Even students who said they are cynical of the election process said they have a stake in today’s election.
“I feel like I still don’t trust the process, but I’m going to vote anyway, in case it does do something,” said first-year student Angie Andersen. “I’m encouraging everybody to do the same, because it matters.”
Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes feedback at [email protected]