Registration numbers, political activity contradict student apathy trend

Surveys conducted by GW Votes have revealed that about 95 percent of GW students are registered to vote in this year’s election. Whether 95 percent were able to cast their absentee ballot is another story, but the survey seems to show patterns of indifference among the youth vote.

Recent statistics report that political ambivalence among 18 to 24-year olds is increasing and that their voter turnout has declined 13 percent since 1972. Organizations such as YouthVote.com and The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) show that despite a more diverse and better-educated youth, students are voting less and less.

But political science and statistics professor Eric Lawrence disagrees with these numbers. “I would question the liability of these numbers,” he said. “It’s difficult to count, and not as big as it’s made out to be.” The real question, he said, lies in the level of turnout among all age groups, not just students.

And GW students seem to back him up. Sophomore Jelena Bubalo will be voting for the first time this year, and she said she is very excited.

“This election is very important to me,” she said. “The world is experiencing a transition from the Cold War to global terror, and the administration determines how the U.S. reacts to this.”

Junior Rosinna Rivera is also looking forward to the election. “It’s my first time voting, and I will definitely be out there,” she said. Although she is not satisfied with either candidate, Rivera and many other students are adamant about the importance of voting.

For most of campus, this election will be the first chance students have ever had to vote, and although statistics show a decrease in this demographic’s voter turnout, student enthusiasm says otherwise.

“We have the highest number of members we’ve ever had,” said Chrissy Trotta, senior and chairman of the GW College Republicans. “This year it’s up to 600 students, and we’ve also received more funding from the SA than in the past.”

The increase in funding is going toward getting more students to vote, according to Trotta. Earlier this semester, the CRs worked with the College Democrats to encourage freshmen to register to vote with a program called “Dorm Storm.” The College Republicans also worked with the Democrats to host parties for the presidential debates

“We do a lot with the Dems,” Trotta said. “It’s not who you vote for that’s important. We just want everyone involved.”

But there are also some partisan programs that the CRs are using their funding for. Each week, the CRs have students volunteering around town and working on the campaign trail. On the weekends they are sending a busload of GW Republicans to volunteer in swing areas such as Pennsylvania, where they are distributing literature and helping the local Republicans.

But despite a larger membership in the CRs and increased efforts to get students involved, many Colonials still feel that the Democratic Party approaches students much more than the Republican Party.

Sophomore Masha Kalinina saw Kerry’s visit to GW last year as a more active approach to winning the college vote. “Kerry’s coming to campus was an obvious way to target us,” she said. “He also had the guts to go on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart. I think the Republicans could do more to recruit our generation.”

But sophomore Sam Taylor attributed Democratic efforts at GW to the liberal tendency of campus. “The Democrats probably try more here since more students vote Democratic.”

Lawrence agreed, saying, “There may be more effort by the Democrats here, but that’s not true everywhere. There are some campuses where Republicans are more active or the local party is more organized with youth programs.” Some more traditionally conservative campuses, such as Brigham Young University, the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Mississippi, tend to have stronger Republican youth organizations.

Regardless of political leaning, GW is still one of the most political campuses in the nation. The Princeton Review recently named it the ninth most active school in the States and Kaplan gave it the ranking of hottest school for political junkies.

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