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MPIRG Success: 5,064 Duluth Students Registered
At UMD, some professors allowed MPIRG to register entire classes and the football team filled out their registration cards before practice. Ebert attributes the cooperation to the MPIRG's insistence on keeping party politics out of the registration process. “The idea of a non-partisan voter turnout works," she said. "Because we didn't represent a party, we had access to many places that party-affiliated organizations couldn't go. People don't want to be pushed to vote a certain way.”
The "No Youth Vote Left Behind" MPIRG campaign extends to 15 campuses statewide and the overall goal was to pre-register 10,000 students by October 14. The state goal was also exceeded, with over 15,000 students registered in the state.
Ebert gives voting a high priority. “It's an amazing right, people fought for 18-year-olds to be able to vote. They fought for us. It is a privilege and our civic duty.” Ebert has spent most of her non-class hours registering students to vote, “I haven't been working all fall because I've been too busy. I probably won't be able to pay my rent for November. . . . but we got 5,000 voters registered so I don't care!”
She said one message got through to young people. "Even if we don't feel educated enough on the candidates, it's important to let our representatives know that we are here so they don't just blow us off. They represent our demographic too. It's important to show that we care about what is going on with the country. If students don't vote then they will just continue to be ignored.
The economy is the most important issue among students, according to the 14th Biannual Youth Survey on Politics and Public Service conducted in April 2008 by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. The national poll shows that the economy was the top concern for 30 percent of the 18-24 year-old respondents, followed by the war in Iraq (20%), health care (9%), social issues (6%), environment (5%), education (3%) and foreign policy (3%).
Ebert says UMD students respond to those issues as well. “When I meet someone who isn't going to vote, I ask them if they care about tuition going up or if they care about the economy or the environment. We're going to be around in 2050 when the world is affected by this stuff.”
The war is a particular concern. “I have friends in Baghdad right now," she said. "Students have friends or family members that have died over there; people in this school used to be over there. When people you know are directly being affected by governmental policies, it's in your face. It gives you reason to care.”
An informal poll taken by the UMD University Relations office of 269 UMD students (taken October 16, 2008) showed that UMD student concerns mirror those of other students across the country. The survey listed ten prominent issues and asked students to check the top three issues that were important to them. Of the 86 freshmen, 55 sophomores, 52 juniors and 76 seniors surveyed, the economy was the top concern (78%). Other high-ranking concerns were education (57%), health care (51%), and Iraq/Afghanistan (41%). When asked if they were planning on voting in the November 2008 election 95 percent said yes.
While 95 percent of UMD students polled said they are going to vote, historically, U.S. students haven't had a strong turnout. In 2004, only 41.9 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds voted. (See U.S. Census Bureau chart below.) Yet, national exit polls indicated that turnout among voters age 18 to 29 was high in the 2008 Super Tuesday primaries. And in some states, it appears that young voters may have provided the margin of victory for the winners.
Education and Mobilization
Ebert says the stakes are high. Young people between the ages of 18-29 account for a quarter of Americans. It is the largest group of young people in history — bigger, even, than the baby boomers. "The student voice is huge," Ebert said. "It's exciting. If enough of us vote, we can impact the balance of power in November.”
The UMD student organization College Democrats are also pushing for a big turnout at the polls in November. “We are a very, very large constituency, if we all vote then they will have to listen to us,” said College Democrats representative Justin Hauschild.
He said College Democrats are energized by the support they have received so far. “We have seen a large turnout of students this year, not just here but nationwide.”
As a college student, Hauschild said he feels the economy, tuition rates and energy independence are all important. “The economy is important because as college students, we are not so far out of the real world; we will have to face it soon.”
Hauschild urges students to properly prepare for this election. “Don’t be apathetic, get out and vote. Be informed, read the news, look on the candidate’s websites, find other non-partisan websites, make sure your vote aligns with your views on how the country should move forward. Most of all just make an informed vote.”
On October 17, the candidates for the Minnesota Senate seat: GOP Senator Norm Coleman, DFL candidate Al Franken, and IND candidate Dean Barkley held one of their five debates on the UMD campus. MPIRG, along with the College Democrats and the College Republicans encouraged students to attend.
"At the Franken, Coleman, Barkley senatorial debate, there were many questions posed,” said Jake Loesch, a representative of the UMD student organization College Republicans. “Not just on the big topics like foreign policy and the economy, but a wide spectrum of other issues."
The College Republicans have been conducting their own awareness campaign. Loesch said, "The group has been incredibly well received. We want to improve the conservative presence. We started with a small e-mail list which has grown to 400. We have a lot of volunteers who are finding ways to communicate ideas and get others involved. The most exciting part of our work is seeing that people care. They have opinions and want results."
He agrees that the country is looking to young people this election. The fact that the senate debate was held at UMD is an indication of the importance of the student voice.
"The country is divided on the issues so that makes our votes even more important. The youth vote has historically been smallest group voting so if we can increase the numbers, it will have a big impact on the election outcome."
Will They Vote?
UMD student leaders, regardless of their political affiliation agree. They want students to vote.
"Voting is a freedom we were given,” added Loesch. “It's a freedom that a lot of people in the world don't have."
Between the growth of campus political groups, UMD students leading the largest voter registration drive in the state, and the exposure to a U.S. senatorial debate on campus, it appears that UMD students are more involved in the political process than ever.
At UMD and across the country, students have increased their activity in presidential election politics. UMD student leaders predict that young people in Minnesota and nationwide could decide the direction the United States of America will take.
It remains to be seen if the majority of college students will sleep
in on election day as history has shown us in the past, or if they will
stand up and be counted.
Written by Jordan Hanson and Cheryl Reitan
Your Own Vote A note from the Office of Civic Engagement: This project started with a summer marketing class doing research on college students and what marketing campaigns would work. The point of the campaign is to go beyond just voting (as we tend to vote in high numbers in Duluth) but to vote smart. Civic Engagement worked with the advertising agency WestmorlinFlint to create a campaign and website. The purpose of the website is to inform voters and be fun....there are UTUBE videos of UMD students talking about issues that are important to them.
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