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.
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
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