Student voter participation growing slowly

College students virtually throw their right to vote away. Dr. Kamol Somvichian, professor of political science, said the problem “is not just an American problem. Young people are simply not interested in politics.” / photo illustration by Starr Carroll
College students virtually throw their right to vote away. Dr. Kamol Somvichian, professor of political science, said the problem “is not just an American problem. Young people are simply not interested in politics.” / photo illustration by Starr Carroll

by Lori Cruz
photography by Starr Carroll

It is not whether college students vote for the elephants or the donkeys which is a concern, but whether they vote at all.

“They just don’t vote. Historically, they have the lowest voter turnout,” said Dr. Richard Gelm, associate professor of political science.

This pattern will be put to the test with the California primary election on Tuesday. Voters will be able to select the presidential candidates for their parties, as well as vote on various local and state-wide races and decide on 12 legislative propositions (see below).

In the 1992 Presidential election, only 38.5 percent of those in the 18-20 year old group and 45.7 percent of 21-24 year old age range voted. Those numbers are up 5 percent and 7 percent, respectively, from the 1988 election.

For those who choose not to vote and then conclude that “government is the problem,” Dr. Gelm said, “it’s a cop-out. People become cynical of government, when in fact, they are it.”

“One reason why young people don’t vote is because they tend to be the most transient group,” he said. “Registration laws require that you re-register every time you move, which puts a greater burden on people.”

“Another is that young people don’t feel a real stake in the system, like many homeowners do, for instance,” he said.

Junior Ronnie Daniels disagrees.

“I feel like I do have a stake in what is happening,” he said. “I am not too active politically, but when I vote, I know who I am voting for.”

Rock the Vote, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that encourages 18-24 year-olds to become active politically, claims they had a lot to do with the increase in the number of young voters, attracting 2 million first-time voters in the 1992 election.

Another reason many young people voted in the 1992 election, according to Dr. Gelm, was the campaign of President Bill Clinton.

“Clinton turned the tide by reaching out and doing MTV,” said Dr. Gelm. “Young people don’t watch the news or read the paper, and Clinton cut through some of that by going to them directly and going on MTV.”

Senior Daryl Sanchez, a political science major, feels there is not enough being done to attract new voters. This was evident to him when he interned with the California Democratic Party last summer.

“You would think that with an institution like that, they would be a little more active in attempting to get more younger people aware about the voting process, but surprisingly, they did not,” he said.

Marta Casper, a senior political science major, is working for Californians Against Political Corruption to gather signatures for an initiative they hope will get on the November ballot.

“I am finding as I do these signatures the apathy among the students. I get people who say ‘no, no, no’ and other people who say ‘sure’ without knowing what they are doing,” she said.

“On one hand I’m excited to get the signature, but at the same time I think, ‘Come on people, put some thought into this,’” said Casper.

Since 1971, when the voting age was lowered to 18, there has been a consistent decline in the number of young voters. The 1992 election broke the trend. This year’s election will tell whether young voters revert to pre-1992 voting patterns or if the turnout will increase.

Dr. Gelm stays hopeful.

“Time heals all wounds. Time will bring these young people to the ballot box,” he said. “Those with a higher level of education seem to vote.”

Statistically this is true. Eighty-one percent of those with four-year college degrees voted in the 1992 election.

Voter apathy tends to be especially prevalent within minority populations.

In the 1992 Presidential election, only 28.9 percent of the Hispanic population, along with 54 percent of blacks and 64 percent of whites voted.

Sophomore Herman Barahona said, “People just don’t care. It’s a big scare to them. There is so much negative feedback from the government and the people just don’t understand the power of the vote.”

Senior Rosemary Southern said, “I feel that there is going to be a change. People are realizing that the power to vote is there and people are no longer saying ‘my vote doesn’t count.’”

Although it is too late to register for Tuesday’s primary (registration forms must be post-marked 30 days prior to an election), it is not too late to register for the November general election. Registration forms can be picked up at most post offices and Department of Motor Vehicles offices, or can be obtained by calling the Registrar of Voters at (800) 815-2666.

Voting attitudes among ULV students

Note: This survey is not necessarily representative of the entire ULV student population. There were 138 respondents.

1. How old were you when you first registered to vote?
17: 3 %
18: 77%
19: 8%
Over 20: 3%
Never: 9%

2. Are you registered to vote in the March primary?
Yes: 60%
No: 40%

2a. If no, will you register before the November election?
Yes: 48%
No: 52%

2b. If no, why not? (sample responses)
“Not interested in voting.”
“Don’t know where to register.”

3. Are you a registered Democrat, Republican or other?
Democrat: 39%
Republican: 38%
Other: 23%

4. Do you find you vote the same way as your parents?
Yes: 47%
No: 53%

5. Which parental influence has the most affect on how you vote?
Mother: 20%
Father: 36%
Both: 9%
Neither: 35%

6. Will you vote in the March primary?
Yes: 68%
No: 32%

7. Will you vote in the November election?
Yes: 81%
No: 19%

7a. If no, why not? (sample responses)
“Don’t like the candidates.”

8. Do you feel like your vote makes a difference?
Yes: 44%
No: 18%
Sometimes: 38%

8a. Why or why not? (sample responses)
“If I felt it didn’t, why would I be an American?”
“The electoral college makes the final decision, despite the voters’ choice.”

9. Do you feel there is a candidate who best represents what is important to you?
Yes: 50%
No: 50%

9a. If no, what are the issues that are important to you? (sample responses)
“Education.”
“Welfare reform that is not racist.”

10. Do you believe in your candidate’s campaign promises?
Yes: 48%
No: 52%

11. What aspect has the most impact on why you will vote for a candidate?
Party Affiliation: 22%
Candidate’s History: 39%
Candidate’s Promises: 29%
Other: 10%

12. How well do you think you know what the candidates stand for?
Moderately well: 20%
Somewhat well: 50%
Very little: 30%

13. Do you know who your Congressman is?
Yes: 56%
No: 44%

13a. Do you know who your U.S. Senators are?
Yes: 63%
No: 37%

14. If the election was held today, for who would you vote?
Clinton: 33%
Dole: 31%
Neither/Other/No one: 36%
“Clinton is more in tune with the youth.”
“Dole is well qualified and seems responsible.”

Males responding: 38%
Females responding: 62%
Freshman: 37%
Sophomore: 25%
Junior: 28%
Senior: 10%
—Statistical help by Dr. Glenn Gamst, associate professor of psychology.

Campus Comment: What are the major issues concerning you in the upcoming election?

“Education and the stand they take on education in the future and the schools for our kids.” —Cynthia Hughes, Junior
“Education and the stand they take on education in the future and the schools for our kids.”
—Cynthia Hughes, Junior
“The most important issues are what they are going to do economically and how they’re going to help out businesses and the budget.” —Sean Piazza, Freshman
“The most important issues are what they are going to do economically and how they’re going to help out businesses and the budget.”
—Sean Piazza, Freshman
“As long as they try and help out this country and stop worrying about others. We need to give job opportunities for everybody.” —Aundre Wright, Junior
“As long as they try and help out this country and stop worrying about others. We need to give job opportunities for everybody.”
—Aundre Wright, Junior
“I want to see how they deal with who gets the welfare funds and how they want to put restrictions of what kind of welfare people should get and what their needs are.” —Carl W. Caston II, Senior
“I want to see how they deal with who gets the welfare funds and how they want to put restrictions of what kind of welfare people should get and what their needs are.”
—Carl W. Caston II, Senior
“I would probably vote for Dole for his values. Censorship doesn’t bother me. I think it’s better for the family unit.” —Gil Gomez, Junior
“I would probably vote for Dole for his values. Censorship doesn’t bother me. I think it’s better for the family unit.”
—Gil Gomez, Junior

Ballot Propositions

•Proposition 192—Would provide for a $2 billion bond issue for a seismic retrofit program.

•Proposition 193—Would conditionally eliminate the requirement for new appraisals of real property upon the purchase or transfer between grandparents and their grandchildren.

•Proposition 194—Would no longer allow a prisoner to collect unemployment benefits, based upon his employment in a joint venture program, upon release from prison.

•Proposition 195—Adds murder during a carjacking and the intentional murder of a juror to the list of special circumstances for the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for defendants convicted of first-degree murder. Joined to Proposition 196.

•Proposition 196—Adds murder resulting from a drive-by shooting to the list of special circumstances for the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for defendants convicted of first-degree murder. Joined to Proposition 195.

•Proposition 197—Would repeal the mountain lion’s status as a specially protected animal and allow for the man­a­ge­ment of the mountain lion population.

•Proposition 198—Would allow voters to cross party lines during a primary election and vote for a candidate regardless of party affiliation.

•Proposition 199—Would phase out rent control laws on mobile homes. Would provide private sector rent subsidies for mobile homes.

•Proposition 200—Also known as “no-fault” motor vehicle insurance. Requires insurers to pay benefits regardless of fault in motor vehicle accidents.

•Proposition 201—Require the losing party to pay the winning party’s attorney’s fees in shareholder actions and class action suits for violations of security laws.

•Proposition 202—Would encourage prompt settlement response offers for court cases. Would also limit attorneys’ fees to 15 percent of the offer.

•Proposition 203—Would allow for a $3 billion construction bond to upgrade or construct classrooms, libraries and other facilities in public schools.

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