City candidates skip campus

Some mayoral hopefuls haven’t tried to appeal to students yet.

Alexi Gusso

With two hotly contested constitutional amendments and a presidential election, University of Minnesota students encountered political campaigns as soon as they stepped foot on campus last year.

This year, campaigning at the University hasn’t been as prevalent. And some students aren’t even aware of the upcoming Minneapolis elections, leaving candidates wondering if targeting campus is worthwhile.

Political science professor Larry Jacobs said students are not necessarily unengaged, but mayoral candidates have a hard time “breaking through” to them.

“I think the challenge for the mayoral candidates is to stand out and excite students,” he said.

“As a group, [the candidates] have just failed to do that so far.”

A recent Star Tribune poll of 800 likely Minneapolis voters showed 32 percent in the 18-to-39 age group were unsure of their first choice for mayor. Among older voters polled, none said they were unsure.

Jacobs said the uncertainty among young voters stems from the large pool of candidates hoping to replace Mayor R.T. Rybak — 35 will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.

“I think this race is so diffuse with so many candidates that it may be hard for students to figure out why it’s important for them to vote and which candidate offers the most for them,” he said.

University student Stephanie Behm said she isn’t familiar with any mayoral candidates and probably won’t choose whom to vote for until closer to the election.

“I’m not even going to worry about it until the end of October,” she said.

Leah Enter, co-chair of the University’s Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, said the group registered nearly 7,000 students on campus last year. This year, volunteers have registered a few hundred.

“When you get down to the city level, students really just aren’t aware of elections and how much city policies affect them,” Enter said.

Unlike Jacobs, she said the variety of candidates on the ballot will be helpful to student voters because it’ll allow them to find someone they relate to more than the usual “brand name” candidates.

“It may be a little more difficult to find information about each candidate,” Enter said. “But students are more than capable of finding that information.”

Not a wise investment

Enter said University students are often unaware of city elections because candidates don’t always market to them.

Ben Fridley, campaign spokesman for DFL mayoral candidate Mark Andrew, said the campaign plans to “ramp up” efforts on college campuses as the election approaches.

Fridley said the University will be an important part of Andrew’s campaign because students who aren’t constituents now may eventually become Minneapolis voters.

“Allowing [students] to feel empowered in the decision-making process in a place they might someday call home is important,” Fridley said.

In a Star Tribune poll administered Sept. 8-10, Andrew polled 9 percent with 18 to 39-year-olds. The poll cited a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Among people in the 18-to-39 age group, 18 percent listed former City Council President Dan Cohen as their first choice, ranking him the highest of all mayoral candidates.

Despite Cohen’s ranking in that demographic, campaign manager Troy Wilson said University students are “not necessarily on the list for the target group” because many students are from out of state.

“If we did something at the U of M, we would not be able to determine who was [from Minneapolis], and we’re not sure if that would be a wise way to invest time,” Wilson said.

University chemical engineering sophomore Zach Gartner said he didn’t know there were city elections this year because he hadn’t seen any campaigning on campus.

But Gartner, a Burnsville native, said the elections don’t affect him because he doesn’t vote in Minneapolis.

Aaron Wells, campaign spokesman for mayoral candidate and ward 13 city councilwoman Betsy Hodges, said the University is an important source of volunteers and interns, regardless of whether they’re Minneapolis

Hodges polled 8 percent among 18 to 39-year-olds, placing her behind Andrew, Cohen and Don Samuels, ward 5 city councilman.

Despite the large number of out-of-state students on campus, Wells said the Hodges campaign will target the University in the coming weeks.

“The [University] is enormous,” he said. “Even if there’s only a small percentage of students who are voters, that’s still a huge number of voters there.”