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MC political poll shows apathy among students voters

Barry McNamara
According to a recent Monmouth College poll, President Obama might need to be concerned about voter apathy by young adults in the 2012 presidential election. Or, he might be thankful that college-aged students don’t vote in large numbers, as they might be more likely to cast a ballot for Ron Paul.

Those were among the findings of the poll conducted in April under the supervision of MC faculty members Joe Angotti and Robin Johnson. Angotti involved students in his Introduction to Journalism class, while Johnson had his Politics and Government in the Midwest class conduct the poll as part of its citizenship requirements.

“This was Joe’s orginal idea,” explained Johnson. “He pitched it to me. Two years ago, Joe tried it with a class. This time, we combined the efforts of our classes.”

Johnson’s students were required to write a paper about the poll, interpreting the results from their point of view. They addressed issues related to the poll such as surprises, what they would do differently if they conducted the poll again and how to get more students involved in politics.

The latter issue is related directly to the poll results, which showed that only 11 percent are following the presidential campaign “a lot,” with 46 percent saying “some.” The other 43 percent came in at either “not much” or “none.”

“There’s a lot of apathy among this age group,” said Johnson. “Some of our students were outraged at the low level of interest.”

One of the most interesting findings, Johnson noted, was how Obama would fare in head-to-head competition against three GOP candidates – Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Paul. In races against Romney or Santorum, support for Obama was approximately 40 percentage points higher than for his Republican counterpart. But with Ron Paul as the GOP nominee, Obama’s lead shrank to less than 20 percentage points.

“I was surprised because I did not consider Paul being popular with college students, but after our class discussion, I realized that his ideas may be popular because they are out there and unique,” said Rachel Holm, a senior from Oregon.

Johnson reported that 300 students were polled, with each class being responsible for reaching 150 students through random distribution.

“The results were very close to the demographics of the college’s student population,” he noted.

In addition to the apparent apathy of the students, Johnson was also troubled by how students said they follow the campaign.

“I question whether the lead news source that is best for following the campaign is network news, but that was the No. 1 answer at 28 percent,” Johnson reported. “Another 10 percent said late night TV or comedy shows was their lead news source.”

What would fire students up to vote? That was also covered in the poll, with the reduction or elimination of student loan programs receiving the most interest of the five proposed issues at 70.8 percent, more than 10 points ahead of legalizing gay marriage (60.1). The other issues, in order of interest, were instituting a military draft, increasing taxes and prohibiting or greatly restricting abortions.

Perhaps the reason that college-aged students are not as inclined to vote is not apathy but, rather, dissatisfaction with government.

“In our poll, we asked students if they believed they could make more of a difference without voting or participating in the political process, and nearly 60 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that they could,” said Johnson. “The belief is that government takes too long to create change, so they’ll change things themselves. Nearly 80 percent of them reported that they have participated in projects that improve their community.”

Six months from now, when it will be virtually impossible to not follow the presidential campaign in some form, will today’s college students end up voting? Johnson and Angotti plan another poll in the fall, and they are hopeful that the figure improves from the 41 percent who indicated they were very likely to vote in November.