Voting among people ages 17-29 has increased substantially in recent years. According to Circle, a non-partisan group that encourages civic engagement, youth voting increased from 22 percent to 25 percent between the 2002 and 2006 elections. Texas has already seen an impressive youth turnout in this year’s election. Seventeen percent of Texans under 30 turned out to vote in the 2008 primary, almost three times as many as in the 2000 election. These young voters made up 15 percent of the total electorate in the 2008 primary, according to Circle.
College students represent a large part of this increase, but they aren’t just going out to vote. They’re also on-campus activists working to raise peer awareness of our political world, and are campaigning on behalf of the candidates and ideals they support.
Co-president Max Fisher of the College Democrats of Trinity University said that his group’s activities range from informal debating sessions, where current events and topics are discussed in a friendly setting, to more organized efforts to raise awareness for
Fisher said that TU will be staging a voter registration drive before the fall election, and that a large part of his organization has always been encouraging political participation. “We’ll go door to door to sign people up,” Fisher said. “We were passing out absentee ballots `before the primaries`, we were getting people
registered in Bexar County.”
As the election has neared, Fisher says that the group’s membership, as well as activism by those members, has increased
dramatically. Much of this enthusiasm can be traced to Barack Obama, according to Fisher. “Obama’s candidacy has energized college students and has gotten them excited about the possibility that he could transform the political landscape in Washington,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s observation has held true nationwide. Overall, 60 percent of young Democratic voters favored Obama in the 2008 primaries, according to Circle. Obama also won the majority of states in the Democratic primary, according to the PEW Research Group, and his margin of victory was over 40 percent in some of these states, including Georgia, South Carolina and Iowa.
Fred Tawil is one of the students who has been energized by the senator from Illinois. A Trinity senior, Tawil is the national field director for Students for Barack Obama, responsible for overseeing Obama student groups all over the country, including Trinity’s. The youth movement hopes not only to raise support for Obama, but also to raise awareness of the political process and encourage people to participate. Tawil said that he wants everyone on campus to be registered to vote and that he works to encourage everyone to be politically active, no matter whom they vote for.
The other side of the political spectrum is just as active. Republican groups are present on the campuses of both Trinity and UTSA. According to College Republicans of Trinity University president Zach Noblitt, their group is involved not only in voter registration, but will also be hosting debate-watching parties and other social events that they hope will increase participation in the election.
Noblitt thinks highly of the collaborations between the College Republicans of TU and its Democratic counterpart. He feels that the two groups working together will inspire people to become more involved in the political process. One collaboration is a debate between two ideologically opposite professors from the
political science department. These experiences reach students and encourage them to think about how politics affects their lives, says Noblitt.
While the group makes an effort to encourage everyone to become involved, it still maintains a strong focus on supporting the party. “We hope to be able to provide the students on our campus with a clear idea of where John McCain and the GOP stand on all of the important issues,” Noblitt said.
Andres Bocanegra, chairman of the UTSA College Republicans, said that his group also plans to be very active in the fall. They will be working hard to register as many voters as they can, both on the campus and in the surrounding community, until the October 6 registration deadline, Bocanegra said. Once this deadline has passed, he hopes to have the group host different events every week, such as bringing speakers to campus, and having debates between themselves and the UTSA College Democrats.
As with many Democrats, the College Republicans are unifying behind their presidential nominee, John McCain. Bocanegra said that the UTSA Republicans intend to host an event where people come to watch McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention, then stay for the group’s first meeting of the year.
The UTSA group is not just focusing on the presidential election, however. Bocanegra stressed that much of the group’s effort would go towards supporting local candidates. He says he feels it’s important to support local and state representatives and judicial candidates as well as national figures.
The College Republicans also send members of the group to campaign in other areas during times when there are no local elections. Bocanegra said that he had been to Oklahoma to campaign for Republican candidates, and the group is hoping to send people to Michigan or Kentucky soon. Bocanegra said the group was able to organize this through the statewide organization Texas Federation of College Republicans. This group and its Democratic counterpart, the Texas Young Democrats, support and give guidance to local chapters like the ones here in San Antonio.
Not all student activists devote their time solely to political parties, however. UTSA’s chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas is a non-partisan group that advocates conservative values. They’ve promoted conservative immigration stances by bringing speakers to campus and passing out informational literature to advocate their cause. They even traveled to Austin to lobby both parties to restrict legislation that would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at the state’s universities, according to Kyle Winkler, the group’s chairman. The group also advocated the legalization of concealed weapons on college campuses by staging a demonstration where students wore empty gun holsters and distributed information in support of their cause, Winkler said.
The YCT also ranks politicians based on their conservative voting record. The group distributed their own rankings of presidential candidates at an event last year when other campus political organizations were distributing more general information about the politicians, according to Winkler. The YCT does endorse politicians, but about 20 percent of these endorsements are for conservative Democrats, Winkler said. He did say, however, that because YCT is only a statewide group, they do not involve themselves in national issues.
University of Houston Students for Fair Trade is another group that has taken up its cause independent of political parties. It’s goal is to end the sale of goods that have been produced by “exploited workers” on the UH campus, as well as to educate the campus community about fair trade, according to the group’s founder, Timothy O’ Brien. The group will bring speakers in to discuss fair trade, write editorials to the school newspaper, and set up tables on campus where students can learn more about free trade and its advantages,
O’ Brien said. The group has also been able to put its pro-fair-trade information pamphlets in all of the coffeehouses on campus.
Students can find a group on their own campus by visiting the student-life section of their college’s website. These sites typically have a list of student groups, as well as ways to contact representatives. Students who want to support the presidential campaigns can find information on the Students for John McCain MySpace page, myspace.com/studentsofamerica, or the Students for Barack Obama web page, students.barackobama.com. Students can register online to vote at declareyourself.com or rockthevote.com. •