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UI political orgs increase student involvement in prep for 2012

BY BRENT LARSON | AUGUST 31, 2011 7:20 AM

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Observers say youth vote might slump in 2012, but campus groups intend to combat that prediction.

The last presidential election saw record youth turnout that helped Barack Obama net 365 electoral votes. But University of Iowa political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle said some young people might stay uncommitted in the lead-up to 2012 because they’re disillusioned with Obama’s progress so far.

Students might think, “ ‘Why spend my time, nothing is getting better,’ ” Hagle said. “Students will look at personal debt and dismal economic outlook and have less enthusiasm.”

Since 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds earned the right to vote in 1971, teens and 20-somethings have had the lowest voter turnout among all eligible age groups in presidential elections.

According to the Center for Information and Research Civic Learning and Engagement, voting among 18- to 29-year-olds has been on the rise since the mid-90s. In 2000, fewer than 40 percent of eligible 18- to 29-year-olds cast ballots. In 2008, that number jumped to almost 50 percent.

However, young voters posted lower numbers in 2010’s midterm elections than they did in 2006 — 24 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in federal elections last year compared with 25.5 percent in 2006.

More stark was the youth drop off from 2008 to 2010 compared with the previous general and midterm elections. Youth ballots dipped almost 30 percentage points between 2008 and 2010. Between 2004 and 2006, the youth vote only dropped about 25 percentage points.

And the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote earlier this year, “The naysayers note that candidate Obama was able to channel young peoples’ hopes for politics (and society) in a way that President Obama — saddled with the constraints of governing — can’t hope to equal.”

But campus partisans say they hope to combat slumping interest.

Leaders from both University Democrats and College Republicans intend to reach out to students through social-networking websites. In addition, the political groups have additional means to better connect to student voters.

College Republicans President John Twillmann said his group has plans to boost involvement. It will participate in volunteer activities, such as parades and a 9/11 tribute, and offer students positions as intern pollsters.

“Our goal is to increase turnout,” Twillmann said.

And University Democrats President Nate Fiala said Democrats intend to “go door to door to know [students] issues.”

“We want them to know we are there, we are interested in [students] and would like to help them,” he said.


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