U project aims to involve young voters in public affairs

The Humphrey Institute project will include polls, debates and forums.

Jessica Weaver

As the 2004 presidential election approaches, the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs hopes its 2004 Election Project will receive national attention.

The project is part of the Humphrey Institute’s developing Center for the Study of Politics, funded in part by a $250,000 grant from former Vice President Walter Mondale.

The project seeks to create a public poll of

the upper Midwest with in-depth identification of key voters groups, voter turnout and how to get

people to vote, said professor Lawrence Jacobs.

Jacobs’ McKnight Land-Grant Professorship is a two-year appointment that includes a research grant.

As part of the election project, the center’s members will create policy briefs on major issues such as economics and education and their impact on the region. The project will also include a study of campaign finance and third-party candidates’ influence on elections.

The project hopes to pull together the most comprehensive collection of voting results in the area for journalists and interested citizens, Jacobs said.

Part of the reason for the election project is that there is no similar policy institute in the upper Midwest.

“We want to fill that void,” Jacobs said. “There’s nothing like it in this region.”

The center will seek to expose students to politics by holding debates and forums on current political issues, Jacobs said.

The 2004 Election Project and the Center for the Study of Politics are part of new initiatives introduced to the Humphrey Institute by Dean J. Brian Atwood, who came to the institute in October 2002. Atwood is making changes within the school that he hopes will enrich students’ experience.

Ideally the center will encourage students to see politics in a more positive light and get involved, Atwood said.

“The first thing to overcome is a cynicism in students that politics is dirty. There’s no denying there are problems with our political system,” Atwood said. “It’s about encouraging students that they can get involved and make changes in the system.”

Atwood also hopes to add to the Humphrey Institute’s academic success by strategically focusing on areas for improvement. The Center Review Committee, formed last year, identified issues within the Humphrey Institute for improvement.

“You don’t want to fix what isn’t broken,” Atwood said. “But there is a lack of strategic focus.”

Atwood hopes to increase student involvement in institute projects. The Humphrey Institute received its largest class ever this year, and Atwood said they are interested in making a difference in the world.

“Our goal is to give them the means to do it,” Atwood said.