Voter apathy on the rise

Young voters helped put President Barack Obama in the White House in 2008, but enthusiasm among young adults has suffered this election cycle.

According to a Gallup poll released in July, 58 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 say they will “definitely vote” this November, compared with 78 percent in 2008 and 81 percent in 2004.

Josh Prest, a senior at Youngstown State University and president of the YSU College Republicans during the 2010-2011 academic year, said he doesn’t see excitement among students for the upcoming election like he did in 2008. “I think the reason behind that [lack of excitement] is there are no individuals that are popular with the people,” Prest said.

Even with the high percentage of those intending to vote, only 51.1 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds turned out to vote in 2008 and only 49 percent in 2004, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Political involvement has suffered a decline at YSU as well. The YSU College Republicans, once an active student organization, no longer have a registered presence on campus.

The YSU College Democrats have been in Kilcawley Center, DeBartolo Hall and other buildings on campus since the end of last spring working hard to register students to vote.

Senior Anthony Nwankwo, president of the YSU College Democrats, is even working on a plan to shuttle students from campus to the polls during election week.

“We’re trying to make students more excited for the election, and we have some stuff in the works, but it’s a lot of work to be done,” Nwankwo said. Drew Webster, a senior majoring in political science, remembers a more politically active campus when he came to YSU in 2010.

“I know young Republicans would go down to the Republican headquarters in Columbus. [It was the] same with the Democrats,” Webster said. “Locally, each chapter would visit their closest representative.”

Paul Sracic, chairman of the political science department at YSU, said voter apathy is the likely result of the aftermath of the last presidential election.

“In 2008, people thought things were going to change after the election, and they didn’t, and by some measure they’ve gotten worse,” he said.

Sracic added that disappointment in the presidential race shouldn’t discourage people from voting; there are other issues at stake.

“We place focus so much on the presidential election, but Congress has more power,” Sracic said. “And beyond that, the state Legislature affects your life more. Your votes do count.”

Senior Anthony Diana may skip the voting booth this year to spend time working on making a more tangible difference in his community.

“I’m not sure if I want to vote, but students can find other ways to impact the community: Volunteer at soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits,” he said. “There are plenty of ways to make an impact that can be much faster than voting.”

Sracic, though, emphasized the importance of voting and civic engagement to the success of government. Despite the low projections for this year, he’s not ready to give up on the current generation of voters.

“What it takes is a few really motivated students who are really interested in getting support up and organizing this, and I think other people will follow,” Sracic said.