Campus community catches election fever

With Election Day approaching, constituents of the latest key demographic - college students - are having to weigh their options and decide who they will vote for on Nov. 4.

"I sense among the students that, at best, there is some mild enthusiasm," said Edward Drachman, a political science professor, of this year's election. "I don't see rallies, I don't hear any heated discussions among students. Even in class it seems relatively quiet when the possibility comes up to discuss [the candidates]."

Senior Sarah Parker has also noticed that outside of political groups like the College Democrats, College Republicans and Democracy Matters, there is a lack of political activism and awareness on campus.

"I've talked to people who have no idea who Obama's running mate is," Parker said. "I try to keep up with news sites so I can make an educated decision, but comparatively we're not very politically active."

Lacking activism does not necessarily imply that students do not intend to vote. Think Globally Vote Locally registered 700 students this year, both locally and in their hometowns.

"As the election picked up, more students registered at a more rapid rate," said senior member Fiona Murray.

Jeffrey Koch, chair of the political science department, recalls high voter turnout among students nationally in 2004, something he expects to see again.

"I would be surprised and disappointed to see it fall back to what it was prior to 2004," he said.

The margin, however, was much smaller in 2000 and 2004. Sen. Barack Obama is currently increasing his lead and as of Oct. 20, a Gallup poll showed Obama leading McCain 52 percent to 41 percent, with 7 percent undecided.

"Those were very close races," Koch said of the past two presidential elections. "If the outcome is assured [this year], some people might say, 'Why bother?'"

The widening margin between the candidates does not matter to some who have already made their decisions.

"I've watched the debates and thought about both views, but I've pretty much been decided for a while," said senior John Gauthier, who plans to vote.

Murray cites deficiencies in voter education as contributing to students' perceived lack of political awareness.

"There are a lot of people who do care," she said. "But a lot of people go through high school and no one tells them that their voices matter. You are told to register to vote, but that's not enough. You have to ask students [about the issues], every day."

At the local level, students are generally less informed, although political science professor Marilyn Klotz noted "a fair amount of interest in the Alice Kryzan Christopher Lee Congressional race."

It comes down to whether or not students show up on Nov. 4. Drachman expects to see a large voter turnout despite the lack of overt enthusiasm.

"I think most students are following it," he said. "I think there is a lot of thinking going on, and I think that will translate into votes."