Groups to students: Get political

Britt Johnsen

Had 2 million more youth voted in the 2000 presidential election, someone else might sit in the Oval Office right now.

At least that is the theory behind Rock the Vote’s 20 Million Loud campaign, which aims to register 2 million more 18- to 35-year-old voters this November.

In the 2000 presidential election, there were 18 million 18- to 35-year-old voters.

“If 20 million would have voted, it would have been a completely different election,” said Jen Schnabel, street team leader for the Twin Cities branch of Rock the Vote. “Who knows who would have been elected? Even if you’re just one person your vote can make a difference.”

The national campaign mirrors grassroots efforts of student groups and local parties to emphasize what University graduate student Matt Kaler said is an American obligation.

“I always vote,” he said.

Kaler is one of many students nationwide who are getting more politically involved, according to a recent University of California-Los Angeles study.

In the university’s annual report released in January, researchers found 33.9 percent of students feel politics are a vital part of life. The 2003 study found 22.5 percent of students were interested in politics, the highest level since 1993.

The study was based on responses from 276,449 first-year students at 413 U.S. colleges and universities.

After a 30-year decline in political interest, researchers have found youth involvement is growing.

First-year student Liz Ledoux said she will vote for the first time in November.

“The president is a big deal because it’s national, whereas with the local you don’t really hear as much,” she said. “If there are a lot of people out there like me, then as a whole it will matter.”

Other students say they want to vote but do not find it a priority.

“I don’t feel informed right now,” Jim Auer said.

He knows voting is important, but said that between work and school he is too busy to become politically informed.

Junior Virginia Moore said she would rather not vote if she is too harried to get informed.

“I usually don’t vote because I don’t pay attention. I’d rather not vote for some idiot,” she said.

Moore also said she feels one vote will not make a difference.

Many students lose interest because politicians fail to zero in on their interests, political science professor Joanne Miller said.

“They don’t have students’ interests at heart,” Miller said.

As a result, Miller said many students join independent parties because they address abstract issues and are not “politics as usual.”

Adam Kokotovich, a junior and University DFL treasurer, said the group is trying to increase the number of campus voters by 10 percent. They are sponsoring events around campus to inform students about candidates and how they can voice their opinion.

“Students don’t vote because they don’t feel like they have any power,” he said. “We want to keep them informed, explain to them their vote will matter, their vote will change things and there will be consequences for not voting.”

Campus Republicans are also passionate about getting students involved, though they do not yet have a plan of events. Dan Nelson, Campus Republicans chairman, said that when the Democratic candidate is chosen, it will be easier to create a strategy.

He said everyone should vote even if they do not think they know enough about the candidates.

“Everybody should vote because you can’t complain if you don’t vote,” he said. “You can say, ‘Don’t blame me, I voted for the other guy.’ “

The Twin Cities branch of Rock the Vote holds discussions at coffee shops and has information booths at concerts to garner interest.

“We use music to facilitate interest,” Schnabel said. “It made a difference last year.”

Schnabel’s Twin Cities street team is one of 60 nationwide. The groups organize political talks, register voters and spread the word about elections.

Rock the Vote is slowly spreading and Schnabel said she is trying to start satellite teams in other Minnesota cities, including Duluth and St. Cloud.

Hans Riemer, political director for Rock the Vote’s Washington office, said voting is crucial to a well-functioning nation.

“The government affects our lives,” he said. “Young people need to see the connection.”