Social networks online help bridge voter gap

Jackie Valley

Candidate pictures plastered campus cork boards. Facebook campaign groups multiplied. Campaign coverage consumed the student media.

Yet less than 10 percent of the student body – 2,328 people – cast votes in the 2007 Undergraduate Student Senate election.

The meager voter turnout at Kent State student government’s micro-level election reflects the overall voting pattern among 18- to 24-year-old voters, even in national presidential elections.

Despite youth-driven campaigns, such as MTV’s “Rock the Vote” and celebrity appearances at colleges to rally voter enthusiasm, the younger generation’s voice cracks at the polls.

According to the Census Bureau, about 47 percent of registered 18- to 24-year-old voters cast their ballots in the 2004 presidential election, making young people the least likely age group to vote.

In contrast, about 66 percent of registered voters 25 and older voted in the 2004 presidential election.

Cause and Effect

Kent State Political Science Professor Vernon Sykes said the low voter turnout among college-age people is partly due to their lifestyles.

“The younger voters are basically preoccupied with school and recreation,” he said. “They have not settled down to take an interest in politics.”

According to Portage County statements of votes cast, the three polling locations in Kent that combine community members with Kent State students living in residence halls who are registered to vote in Portage County mirror the national statistics for the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket – between about 48 to 49 percent voter turnout.

Lois Enlow, director of the Portage County Board of Elections, said the low voter turnout among college students is why Kent State does not have a polling location on campus.

“We just can’t justify it,” she said. “Years ago, there was a polling location on campus.

“There were elections where five or 10 people showed up.”

Sykes said another reason why students do not vote is that they do not feel directly affected by the issues.

For example, he said the United States’ volunteer military makes students less concerned about the Iraq war.

“One of the key reasons students are not politically active is because we don’t have a draft,” he said. “Because we have a volunteer draft, students are not as concerned about the war.”

Ryan Robinson, junior fashion merchandising major, agreed college students tend to dismiss the impact of elections.

“A lot of times people overlook the fact that it will affect them,” he said.

Internet Enthusiasm

Even so, voter turnout among young people in the 2004 presidential election did increase by 11 percent from the 2000 election – from 36 to 47 percent.

Sykes said social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, are helping bridge the gap between voter turnout age brackets.

“I think they’re having a phenomenal impact because of the exchange of information,” he said. “It helps educate students about issues they should be concerned about.”

Facebook campaigns are already underway for Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls.

Albert Santoya, freshman political science and journalism major at Texas A&M-Chorpus Christi, said a class discussion in February about poor voting habits among college students prompted him to jokingly create a Facebook group – “15,000,000 Young People to Vote in ’08” – to express the irony of the situation.

But now, more than 1,900 people are members of the growing Facebook group.

“I really would like to see more people join and go out and vote,” he said. “I feel that a vote not used is a vote wasted.”

Santoya said he thinks the Internet is the portal likely to drive larger student voter participation.

“I feel that making your opinion heard today in this country is easier than ever due to the Internet,” he said. “And if people have access, they are going to definitely use it.”

Looking Ahead

Still, Sykes said he does not expect a significant increase in young voter turnout in 2008 because 47 percent is close to the 50 percent mark.

Fifty-eight percent of the total voting-age population voted in the 2004 election, the Census Bureau reported.

“I don’t know that the student population is going to outvote the larger population,” he said.

Ultimately, freshman business major Joe Plottner said he thinks the low voter turnout among young people correlates to a lack of knowledge about candidates and issues.

“I think people think it’s too complicated,” he said. “People don’t want to take the time to understand it.”

Freshman nursing major Emily Carr agreed, saying she does not want to vote uninformed.

“I haven’t ever voted in any election because I don’t feel like I know enough about it,” she said.

Contact student politics reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].