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Nourafshan: College voters: A terrifyingly apathetic cohort

BY ALEXANDER NOURAFSHAN | OCTOBER 15, 2012 6:30 AM

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In 2010, high numbers of University of Iowa students turned out to vote in an effort to defeat the now infamous 21-ordinance, restricting bar occupancy to 21 and over patrons.

While it is heartening that students turned out in droves to vote on this measure, it is troubling that on the same ballot, nearly 60 percent of these students failed to cast a vote on Iowa’s judicial-retention election, the outcome of which cost three justices on the Iowa Supreme Court their seats on the bench and potentially subverted the judicial-retention process for cycles to come.

This paradoxical phenomenon of students turning out to vote, but only for their narrow interest, is reflected by practices in American political culture. However, this cherry-picking political paradigm is inherently damaging to the democratic process: Civic engagement should not be confined to those subjects in which a person has an immediate interest.

By the 2012 election, there will be 46 million eligible voters between 18 and 29, though it will be an embarrassingly small percentage of this group that will end up voting: Only 52 percent of eligible 18-29 year olds voted in 2008, and a recent Gallup survey suggests that this figure is likely to decrease in the November 2012 election.

For youths to abdicate their right to vote in such an important election is a colossal mistake, and the consequences for this demographic will be felt deeply and, possibly, permanently.

In the 24-hour news cycle media environment, in which every election is hailed as the most important election since the last one, it can be difficult to discern the real importance of a particular political contest; 2012 is markedly different, however, because of the radically divergent paths the candidates have outlined for the country going forward, which will have significant implications for many aspects of daily life.

Many young voters erroneously believe that the decisions of the government are only incidentally relevant to their lives. The idea that “what happens in D.C. stays in D.C.” is nonsensical to anyone who follows politics, and there are many important examples to consider before making the cavalier proclamation that decisions in Washington are inconsequential in “real life.”  

Particularly relevant for college students is the debate over student-loan interest rates that began this past year and will inevitably continue in the future. In no small part due to political pressure applied by students, the implacably obstructionist Congress was able to compromise to pass a bill to temporarily prevent student-loan rates from doubling from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

Absent a vocal polity, largely composed of students, student-loan interest rates likely would have doubled. Policies in Washington go much further than this issue: They determine what kind of job market UI students will graduate into, whether young adults can remain on their parents’ health care until age 26 instead of 22, whether women have access to affordable if not free contraceptive care, and, more broadly, how extensively the government is involved in daily life.

Regardless of your beliefs on any of the abovementioned issues, the only wrong opinion is apathy.

The 18-29 demographic is unnecessarily sidelining itself, passing up the opportunity to engage our participatory system of government.


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