Youth turnout expected to be lower for midterm elections

While College Republicans and College Democrats remain active on campus when there isn’t a U.S. presidential election, political involvement around GW is less visible leading up to the 2010 Congressional elections.

In 2008, political fervor surged across campus as many students – even those unaffiliated with the CDs and CRs – participated in activities and kept up with political news and the presidential race. But now, even at GW, which was named the most politically active college in the nation, activism is harder to spot.

“The majority of last year, people were either very amped in opposition to Barack Obama or a proponent of him. I feel virtually no student interest in the actual Senate elections,” sophomore Pat Miller said.

The apparent drop in political activism is being seen across the nation, according to a recent analysis of a Rasmussen Reports survey by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

While national youth turnout for the 2008 presidential elections was 52 percent, the turnout in 2009 Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races was 17 percent and 19 percent, respectively. In the recent special Senate election for Massachusetts, the turnout for voters age 18 to 29 was only 15 percent, according to the survey.

“These state elections do not necessarily make a national trend, but there is clearly an issue right now with youth turnout and enthusiasm,” CIRCLE Director Peter Levine said in a news release.

Additional data from CIRCLE show that national youth voter turnout was 22 percent in 2002 and 25 percent for the 2006 midterm elections.

Sophomore Mingyu Luo followed polling results and watched the presidential debates, but with this year’s Senate and House of Representatives elections approaching, Luo, like Miller, said she has not been keeping track of the races.

Midterm elections will be held Nov. 2, and there are 11 Senate seats that will not have an incumbent in the race – six currently held by Republicans, and five by Democrats.

Michael Goff, a professor and lecturer in political science, said that voter turnout for midterm elections is traditionally less than that of the turnout for presidential elections; About two-thirds of those who vote in presidential elections vote in midterm elections.

“We can anticipate that young people who vote will be lower in 2010 than in 2008,” he said.

Peter Weiss, president of The GW College Democrats, said he believes as the campaign season approaches, there will be an increase in activities and more speculation surrounding the candidates. Goff said that some of his students – those who study political science – are involved already.

“I teach a course on campaigns and elections and a number of students are involved in campaigns including the midterm elections. They learn a lot and bring a lot to the class,” he said.

The CDs and CRs say their groups have maintained membership numbers and participation over the past year.

Around 250 active members are in the CDs now, though 500 new members signed up at the beginning of the year, Weiss said. The CRs currently have 300 members, said sophomore Rob Noel, communications director of the College Republicans.

Both the CRs and CDs said it is still too early to plan out campaign activities for the fall, but Noel said there is a lot of buzz about key battleground districts. Efforts center more on “promoting the message” rather than supporting a candidate, he said.

The CDs are also prepared to continue their campaign efforts this coming fall, even though recent results have not been what they hoped for.

“As we go into the 2010 elections, we’re going to be campaigning even harder,” Weiss said. The CDs will be “campaigning aggressively for candidates up and down the ballot in states across the country.”

As for political involvement across campus, Weiss believes it will increase as well.

“We are the most politically active university in the country and as we approach the 2010 elections, there will definitely be increased activity,” he said.

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