College Crowd Both Indispensable, Ignored in Political Campaigns

Article excerpt

In the world of political campaigns, the college crowd has the distinction of being both indispensable and largely ignored.

On the one hand, the average political campaign would fall apart without young workers.

They are the backbone, quite frankly, of most campaigns, said Jay Parmley, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. One: It's not great pay, but it's wonderful experience. Young people often want the experience and they can make a little money in the process. And secondly, their schedules seem to fit well for campaigns having the summer months off and sometimes they take a semester off of school or they work around their school for September and October.

On the other hand, 20-something voters are the least dependable voting block in the electorate and reaching them is usually a low priority for candidates.

It definitely isn't the demographic that either party relies on to get out to vote, said Chad Warmington, political director for the Republican State House Committee.

The 1972 election was the first presidential election in which 18- year-olds could vote and 55 percent of 18- to 24-year-old citizens cast ballots that year, according to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Since that time, voting participation among 18- to 24-year-olds has declined to only 42 percent of eligible young voters in 2000, according to the center.

In comparison, the center reports that 66 percent of adult citizens over age 25 voted in 2000, down only slightly from 68 percent in 1972.

The only exception to the decline in youth voting was a spike in 1992 when the independent candidacy of Ross Perot was credited with attracting young voters. That year 51 percent of citizens age 18-24 cast a vote.

In Oklahoma, 41 percent of 18- to 24-year-old citizens voted in the 2000 elections, which was 12 percentage points lower than the rate seen in 1972.

'Completely ignored'

One reason for the low rate of voting by college-age voters is negative perception of politics, according to Anne Cockrill, 21, a political science major at the University of Oklahoma who worked on Tom Coburn's Senate campaign last summer.

Generally, when people hear the word 'politics,' it's not viewed as something positive, Cockrill said. It comes with a negative connotation, I think. They think it's corrupt. Very rarely is there anything positive said about it.

Carri Perrier, a 21-year-old student at Oklahoma City University who has been active in Republican campaigns, said the demands of college life also interfere with political activity.

I think at this age and at this level, a lot of people are still trying to figure out who they are, Perrier, said. What they want to be is obviously at the forefront when they're trying to pursue their education.

She said many students are very goal-oriented, become caught up in college life and forget that there is a life and a world outside of the university.

Renee Delight Emery, a 20-year-old Democrat from Broken Arrow who is working this year as the campaign manager for a state House candidate, said one reason for voter apathy among the college crowd is a lack of outreach by candidates.

They have completely ignored youth for years, Emery said. You see mail pieces, commercials and ads that are catered towards the elderly that are catered towards soccer moms - we talk about all these groups. But of course if you're not making an effort as a campaign in any party to make advertisements or do ads or do concerts that are aimed towards young people, then of course they're not going to show up. It's a no-brainer.

That view is shared by John Pettis Jr., age 22 and a Democratic campaign worker in the Oklahoma City area.

Sometimes the political parties and candidates don't really truly try and put enough energy to reach out to younger folks, Pettis said. …