Prof discusses the ‘year of the youth vote’

The 2008 election year is already being referred to as “the year of the youth vote” by numerous political and non-political sources, but despite all the hype, there is still much speculation as to whether or not young people will actually show up on Election Day.

Inspired by this, Tim Clydesdale, professor of anthropology and sociology, gave a presentation on college students and their political involvement to a small group of faculty and students on Oct. 9.

The presentation, titled “Toward Understanding College Students and Politics,” focused on past voting patterns of those between the ages of 18 and 24 and speculation on the youth vote in the upcoming election.

The presentation was followed by an open discussion where both students and faculty shared their opinions.

According to Clydesdale, current polls show the majority of youths supports Sen. Barack Obama, but the question of whether these young voters will actually show up at election polls remains.

Clydesdale said the youth vote peaked in the early ’70s and has fluctuated since, with a slight rise in 2004 after the controversial “war on terror” was launched. He said the youth vote is expected to be significant in the upcoming election, as the views of the candidates differ greatly, the country is still at war and the economy is floundering.

So far, according to Clydesdale, political debates aired on television have had record numbers of viewers, though the actual demographics remain unknown.

Despite all this, Clydesdale said about one in five young people do not follow the polls at all and many have expressed little interest in voting.

In fact, Clydesdale brought up Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation,” who has repeatedly complained that young people pay very little attention to the news, with greater interest in their social lives and the latest technologies than with national and global events.

“The thing I’ve been most struck by, talking to college students, is that politics is an option, meaning students don’t necessarily have to follow it,” Clydesdale said during his presentation. He also said many students see politics as important, but emerging adulthood priorities such as finding work and love take precedence.

Reasons why college students may not vote were also discussed. It was suggested by some that young people simply may have little trust in politics, having come of age in a whirlwind of political scandals, such as President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, acts of random violence, war and, of course, Sept. 11.