Student involvment in politics on the decline

Student+involvment+in+politics+on+the+decline

Josh Medlock

A grand total of four students sat in a spacious meeting room at IU Southeast on the evening of April 9. The scheduled event, hosted by the College Democrats, was the first of a new speaker series connecting local politics to IU Southeast students. All four in attendance were members of the College Democrats.

The absence of political involvement at IU Southeast isn’t limited to the College Democrats. The IU Southeast College Republicans are currently inactive due to lack of interest.

Low political participation among college-age citizens in the United States, especially during midterm elections, is a nation-wide trend. According to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, only 19.6 percent of adults 18-24 voted in the 2010 midterm election.

Three local party chairmen and the mayor of New Albany spoke at IU Southeast on April 9 and April 14 respectively about the importance of youth participation, especially at the local level. With the midterm primaries occurring in May for both Indiana and Kentucky, the speakers discussed the many ways college students can get involved.

Robert Bottorff, former Clark County Democratic Chairman, said the lack of political participation from younger generations is affecting the policies coming from local, state and national governments.

Low political participation among college-age citizens in the United States, especially during midterm elections, is a nation-wide trend. According to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, only 19.6 percent of adults 18-24 voted in the 2010 midterm election.
Low political participation among college-age citizens in the United States, especially during midterm elections, is a nation-wide trend. According to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, only 19.6 percent of adults 18-24 voted in the 2010 midterm election.

“The older folks, 55 and up, vote dramatically more, and you see that in your policies,” Bottorff said. “Even locally, people aren’t as concerned with younger folks…If you don’t vote, people aren’t going to be responsive to your interests.”

All three chairmen stressed the importance of every single vote in local and state elections. Bottorff used the example of 2012’s U.S. Senator race in Indiana, where Joe Donnelly won Floyd County by 34 votes—there were 35,819 votes total.

The impact of the younger generation was also key in the 2012 presidential election. According to Pew Research, voters in the 18-29 age group voted for Obama 60 percent to Governor Romney’s 36. This is a stark contrast to voters 30 and older, who voted for Romney 50 percent to Obama’s 48.

New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan said younger citizens are important to politics on both a local and national scale.

“You guys represent what the nation is going to look like in the next decade,” Gahan said. “You are the trendsetters. What you plan on doing with your lives will affect the nation and the whole world.”

Eric Schansberg, IU Southeast economics professor and two-time Libertarian candidate for congress, said getting involved in politics in a knowledgeable way requires a fair amount of work and effort, but can be done.

“Fortunately at the local level, issues and problems are often less complicated,” Schansberg said. “So, local is a good place to start.”

Jim Kincaid, Harrison County Democratic Chairman, said local politics is especially important because it affects students and citizens on a daily basis and, like Schansberg, believes it is a good first step in getting involved in politics.

“It starts from the ground up,” Kincaid said. “It starts from those little spots; the school boards, the county commissioners, the councils. They all have a huge impact on your community.”

The chairmen and the mayor said, along with attending local government meetings, one of the best ways for college students to get involved is to run for office.

“I think public service is incredibly rewarding,” Gahan said, “You can do a lot of good things for a lot of people. But it is work…just like any other job, if you want to be any good, you have to roll up your sleeves and get down to it. ”

Adam Dickey, Floyd County Democratic Chairman, said these effort-intensive actions aren’t the only ways to be involved in politics.

“Even if all you do is sit on a float and throw out candy in a parade, that is incredibly valuable to the candidates that are running,” Dickey said.

The three chairmen said there are some current national and state issues college students are particularly affected by, such as student loan and gay marriage bills. However, they also said local issues, such as potholes on Grantline Road or development around campus, can have a large impact on IU Southeast students as well.

“When it comes to how you can make a difference in local government, you can really have a tremendous impact,” Dickey said, “but the first step is taking a bit of initiative.”

To register to vote for the midterm elections in November, Indiana residents can go to indianavoters.in.gov, and Kentucky residents should visit elect.ky.gov.