USG election turnout mirrors young adult turnout in national elections

Caitlin Restelli

The recent Undergraduate Student Government elections received a slightly higher percentage of student voters, reflecting the increase in young adult turnout in presidential elections.

But turnout in both types of elections remains low. About 11 percent of the undergraduate student body voted in the recent 2011-2012 election, an increase of three percent from the 2009-2010 election.

“In political science, we assume that people make a kind of rational calculation as to how best to utilize their time,” said Thom Yantek, assistant political science professor. “If they think something has enough of a stake for them, then they’ll take the time to act.”

The percentage of voter turnout in the USG elections is about the same as the percentage of the young American turnout in presidential elections.

Yantek said he assumes students have outside responsibilities that keep them from participating in the election.

“Most students don’t view undergraduate elections as so compellingly important that they will take the time needed to inform themselves about the vote choice and then actually exercise their right to vote,” Yantek said. “If they thought there was something more in it for them, they probably would be more likely to turn out.”

Yantek said the Department of Political Science makes the same inferences with elections in American politics.

According the U.S. Census Bureau , in the 2004 presidential election, young adults, ages 18-24, began voting more. They held 9 percent of the total voting population.

“Any political candidate wants to reach out to college students and young people in general. It’s a very important demographic,” said Steven Hook, chairperson of the Department of Political Science.

From 2000 to 2008, the young adult voter turnout in presidential elections rose 12 percent and registration rose 7 percent.

In the 2008 presidential election, young adults were the only age group to show a significant rise in voter turnout. Forty-nine percent of all U.S. young adults voted; whereas, 47 percent voted in 2004.

“It’s possible that Barack Obama appealed to college students and young people in general,” said Hook. “A lot of times it’s the matter of the individual candidate who excites young people.”

Kevin Papp, director of Governmental Affairs, said he thinks student reasoning for not voting for USG is the same as national elections.

“A lot of students just don’t feel like their voice matters,” said Papp, junior international relations major. “I always think we can get more students involved. I’ll never be satisfied until we have 100 percent voter turnout.”

Students are sometimes preoccupied with their classes or with off-campus jobs, which will keep them from getting involved with politics, but “that’s not unusual with American voters,” Hook said.

Young adults often turn to other outlets to express their political views.

“They do participate; they devote a lot of energy to protests, demonstrations, campaigning,” Hook said. “But quite often they don’t make it to the polls on Election Day.”

With the overall rise of voter turnout for USG elections, Papp said he is “happy that we are moving in an overall upward direction.”

Contact Caitlin Restelli at [email protected].