Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What Happened to Student Voters, and Will They Come Back?

An interesting piece in Politico by Matt Negrin and Gabriel Beltrone yesterday on the college vote in the mid-term elections.  The youth turnout for many Democrats running in districts with universities plummeted, and it might have made a difference in some elections.  In one student-heavy precinct in Tom Perriello's Charlottesville-centered district, for example, his votes dropped by almost 50 percent. 

Negrin and Beltrone's piece includes the Maffei - Buerkle race here in Upstate New York as another possible example, citing an interesting statistic, that although Maffei won Onondaga County by 8 points the other week, in 2008 he carried it by 15 points.  In a race that could come down to a few hundred votes--or less--the student drop-off could prove decisive. 

I noticed a LOT less student political interest on campus this year, and contributed that observation to Negrin and Beltrone's piece.  It seemed nothing like 2008 here on the Hill. 

Some of the activists quoted in the piece located the problem in the candidates under-emphasizing college voters this time around and failing to engage them.  I'm not so sure that's the main issue.  College students are much easier to motivate during presidential elections, when the election is decidedly national.  Granted, this mid-term was all about national-level economic issues, but at the end of the day, congressional elections are still largely local affairs, in terms of how they are experienced by voters--and most college students do not feel rooted to their university neighborhoods in the same way that other local residents do. 

Furthermore, the fact that this election was about the economy may have lowered the interest.  It's not that students aren't worried about the economy--they are for sure, but I doubt that they as easily translate those concerns into policy positions and electoral passions in the same way that they do regarding issues of war and the environment.  Note that there were two big recent bumps up in voting among youth--one in 2004 and then again in 2008, and the war played a large role in both.

Finally, and here I'm back riding a favorite hobby-horse, I would think that the negative attack ads would have their strongest alienating effect among the youngest voters.  These voters are already predisposed to distrust politicians, and the 2010 election season probably just confirmed their worst suspicions.

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