News » Citydesk

Idaho College Students: What Election?

"The issues just maybe aren't important enough to them, nor do they feel their vote matters [enough] to go to the polls."


Of the college students who do register, nearly 90 percent show up to vote. Idaho College Students: What Election?

With intensity building for federal, state and local races throughout Idaho, one particular voting bloc couldn't care less. Once again, student are expected to largely abstain from this year's electoral process.

"Young people have been turned off because of a lot of negativity and the lack of getting things done," Boise State University political science professor Jaclyn Kettler told Boise Weekly.

Kettler points to the well-established theory that most students or young voters don't know where to register to vote or simply haven't bothered to find out.

According to the Campus Vote Project, more than 25 percent of possible voters on college campuses reported they didn't register to vote in the 2010 midterm election because they didn't know where to go.

"They find that college students don't know the laws of voting or how to register," said Kettler. "Even if they get interested in voting, they can't because it's too late."

Additionally, college students say they're just too busy to engage politically.

"Students are busy and often not directly connected with the communities in which their universities are located," said Justin Vaughn, also a political science professor at Boise State.

Simply put, students' heads and hearts are somewhere else and they would rather spend their limited time engaging elsewhere.

"One thing that scholars show us about the current generation of college students [is that] voting is less important than other forms of engagement, ranging from community service to activism," said Vaughn.

On top of all that, the professors added, is the overriding reality that many voters lack knowledge of issues and candidates, resulting in continuously poor turnouts at the polls.

"I find many students and adults alike don't really understand the issues or candidates they vote for—[not] being able to recognize differences in candidates," said Adam Weber, a student and vice chairman of the Boise State College Republicans.

Weber added that many students conclude their vote doesn't matter.

"The issues just maybe aren't important enough to them, nor do they feel their vote matters [enough] to go to the polls," Weber told BW. "I think especially for college students, social issues are what motivates them to vote. These are issues they can understand a lot better as opposed to, say, tax reform or some other issues pertaining to the economy."

Even if students are aware of the issues, Weber said many of them don't know what to make of the issues and "all the political mumbo jumbo" during campaign season.

"I think for some students, they aren't sure where they stand on many issues; it is overwhelming for students to research candidates and issues with all the attack ads and misinformation that both parties spread," said Weber. "Once students can better understand issues from non-biased sources, it is easier for them to vote."

To the person, everyone BW spoke to on the Boise State campus concluded that if students indeed turned out to the polls in substantial numbers on Election Day, their collective vote would actually have a profound impact.

"If students registered to vote, they would probably certainly have an impact on the city council race for the seat that represents the area nearest Boise State," said Vaughn. "If students voted en masse, maybe then also the state legislature seats for the area and the mayor's race. Most of those positions, however, are already held by people who generally reflect the majority preferences of the average college student, so it is an open question whether the results would change. Candidates might stump a bit more nearby, though.

"If students registered to vote, they would certainly have an impact on the [Boise] City Council race or for the [Idaho House and Senate] seats that represent the area nearest Boise State—that's if students voted en masse," said Vaughn.

But without any significant representation at the polls, Kettler said students routinely find themselves without a voice in city and state government.

"The issues of younger people are not well represented," she added. "This is due to the relative lack of participation and there is not a lot of push for elected officials to represent younger people because they just don't turn out to vote."

So what can be done to fix this current trend?

"I would have resources that would provide this information very clearly and easily," said Kettler. "It could be either an app or some sort of social media site that students already go to."

Boise State professors said social media was key to turning the trend around, especially since so many students turn to familiar social media platforms for their primary source of news.

"I am excited for new age information such as Twitter, Facebook and just the Internet in general," said Weber. "We're able to access unlimited amounts of information at our fingertips, leading us to make more informed decisions at the polls. "

And there's one final note of optimism for the future of political engagement among college students: According to the Campus Vote Project, of those students who had registered to vote in recent elections, a stunning 87 percent said they showed up at the polls to make a difference in the outcomes.

—Brandon Walton