College Dems, Republicans agree: only dialogue can reverse apathy in youth

College-aged students continue to be the demographic with the lowest percentage of voters, according to recent studies published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The study, which was released in March 2006, explains that just 47 percent of U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in the 2004 presidential elections. Citizens between the ages of 65 and 74 represented the most active demographic, with 72 percent of their population represented in 2004.

“I think the elections seem less important to young people,” said William B. Ferraro, president of the St. John’s College Republicans. “I think that the issues seem less important when you’re young. I think a lot of young people have a belief that nothing matters, that they [politicians] are all the same, and I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. If you really take a look at the issues, you do your reading, you catch up on the news, you’ll see that the parties are very different.”

The U.S. Census Bureau’s study proves Ferraro’s intuitions correct. Forty-four percent of citizens polled between the ages of 18 and 24 cited a disinterest in the election or politics in general as their reason for not registering to vote in 2004.

Recent studies have also suggested that midterm elections are frequented far less than presidential elections, as only 22 percent of 18-29 year old citizens voted in the 2002 midterms, according to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

“The general response I hear from students [about why they do not vote] is that their vote doesn’t matter, that there’s a group of old people that outweigh their opinions,” said Shamil Rodriguez, president of St. John’s College Democrats. “We can’t come together and make our opinions heard.”

Ferraro and Rodriguez both recognize their responsibilities to raise political awareness among their relatively apathetic demographic. Despite being overshadowed by older demographics, young voters showed improvement in numbers in 2004, as nearly half of the 42 million eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 (the highest level of participation among the young demographic in over a decade) reported to the polls, according to CIRCLE.

Both student leaders are hopeful for a good showing during this year’s Nov. 7 midterm elections.

“[The elections] are very important because of the stakes this year,” Ferraro said. “It’s very clear to people that Republicans could lose their majority. This sort of thing does not happen all of the time. We took power in 1994, but that was the first time in some forty-odd years. It’s not like we’re going to be able to get power back in two or four more years.”

“We don’t have control of the House [of Representatives] or the Senate right now,” Rodriguez noted. “If voters do vote Democratic during this midterm election, it will show that the country is headed in a more liberal direction and that Americans will believe that we [Democrats] are taking the country in the right direction.”

If this year’s elections follow the trend started by the 1994 midterm elections, which followed a similar surge in youth votes in the 1992 presidential elections, pollsters can expect a stronger turnout than usual. In 1994, 26 percent of 18- to 29-year olds voted, according to CIRCLE.

Rodriguez hopes that this year’s elections have a strong young-voter showing, as college students are stereotypically liberal. According to Rodriguez, students are typically liberal because of their new surroundings on a college campus.

“I think it’s the instructors,” Rodriguez said. “Usually the stereotype is that college professors are the crazy liberals that keep the party going in terms of trying to influence their students. I definitely think it has to do with the professors and I think that in college, students rebel against their parents who may be more conservative. I think it’s just more of a change in culture.”

According to the Washington Post, a 2005 study revealed that 72 percent of professors at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative. In terms of political parties, 50 percent of collegiate faculty members identified themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

Ferraro claims that despite the stereotypes that label college students as liberal, there is a an unheard conservative population on campus.

“I’ll have five liberal students and the professor yelling at me and arguing with me and it’s just me. So you think, ‘Wow, I must be the only conservative’ and then after class people will come up to me and say ‘O yea, I agree with what you said,'” Ferraro explained. “And I ask them why they don’t speak up. And they say ‘Well, because it’s a liberal campus.’ To that I say, it’s only a liberal campus because the liberals do all the talking. If you don’t come out and say ‘you know what, it’s okay to believe in this war, it’s okay to hold views outside of the typical liberal views.'”

Both Ferraro and Rodriguez agree that increased political discourse is necessary for growth within the University.

“I don’t think there are enough political speakers that come on campus, period,” Rodriguez said. “Whether it be conservative or liberal, we just don’t have enough political speakers coming on campus.”

“Real information is two sided, it gives you both perspectives,” Ferraro said. “It’s not going to be Michael Eric Dyson explaining how conservatives messed up during [Hurricane] Katrina, that’s not political news. That’s rhetoric, that’s ideology. I think that definitely has its place, it has value, but it has to be balanced and I don’t believe this University does a good job of that.”