Turn on the TV or take a look at a newspaper this week and all you’ll see is election, election, election. From bumper stickers on cars, to signs stuck in lawns, even “Facebook” has a section for “campaign issues” this fall, the upcoming midterm elections seem to be everywhere.
Everywhere that is, except TCU.
“I didn’t even know there was an election on Tuesday,” said senior nutrition major Jennifer Gitchell. “What are we voting for?”
The average college student seems completely unaware of the election, according to New Voters Project, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that seeks to register young people to vote and then get them to the polls.
Young people, ages 18-25, vote less than any other age group in the U.S. In Tarrant County less than half are registered to vote, and of that half fewer than one in five actually vote. In 2002, the last midterm election, 17 percent made it to the polls.
With 3.1 million eligible young voters in Texas, one would think campaigns and candidates would want to reach out to this demographic for votes.
“Unfortunately, there’s a mutual cycle of neglect going on,” said Kathleen Barr, the national media coordinator for Young Voter Strategies, another youth vote organization. “Campaigns and candidates ignore the college demographic and so college students generally ignore campaigns and candidates.”
Indeed, many TCU students said the reason they didn’t plan to vote on Tuesday is because they have no information about issues on the ballot.
“I’m not going to vote because I’m busy, I don’t have enough information to make an informed decision and I’m not convinced my vote would actually affect me at all,” said senior political science and psychology double major Ryan Ferguson.
Ralph Carter, chairman of the political science department at TCU, said Ferguson’s is the chief complaint of college students who aren’t voting.
“I think it’s important for citizens, regardless of their age, to express themselves by voting and have their voice heard,” Carter said. “This is self-evident to me, but many young people don’t see voting as meaningful in their daily lives.”
There are dozens of organizations who exist to show young people that voting does matter in their day to day lives. From MTV’s “Choose or Loose” and the well known “Rock the Vote” project, to smaller organizations like the Young Vote Coalition, these organizations exist to get the nation’s millions of young people to the polls.
According to a survey done by the Young Vote Coalition last year, young people think voting matters and that it’s important to vote, but they don’t believe their individual vote makes a difference.
“This generation is more in tune with current events and election issues than many have been in the past,” Heather Smith, the director of Young Voter Strategies, said “We know this generation is paying attention and if you ask them to, young people will vote.”
During the 2004 election, groups like this pulled out all the stops in get out the vote campaigns; Rock The Vote alone registered over 1.4 million new young voters for that election.
“In 2004, I felt like my vote really mattered and like it was urgent that I make my voice heard,” said Kirk Warren, a senior business major at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Ferguson said he was surprised that more wasn’t happening around campus to promote the election and issues this year.
“In 2004 there was stuff all over getting students to vote,” Ferguson said. “All I’ve seen this fall is a little kiosk in the library.”
In 2004, 42 percent of young Texan voters cast their ballots, the highest percentage of young voters in the state’s history.
Voting observers caution not to expect such stellar turnout this fall. Mark Hugo Lopez of the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement said years of presidential elections can’t be compared to midterm voting years.
The last comparable election to this weeks was 1994, Lopez said. Following a surge in the young vote in the 1992 presidential election, 26 percent of young people voted in those midterm elections.
“It’s weird how we vote for the big ones and don’t care about this local stuff,” said Warren, “I guess this matters more for my day to day, but I don’t feel like there’s been any kind of fight to get my support. I’m not going to vote on Tuesday.”
Warren and Caitlyn O’Loughlan, another UTA student, said they were aware of the election because of information posted around campus.
“There were people standing around campus taking informal polls and getting information to students about how they could vote,” said O’Loughlan, a senior undeclared major.
Gitchell said she has seen nothing like that around TCU.
“Usually there are people with t-shirts and signs and fliers supporting different parties and candidates,” she said. “This year there hasn’t been any of that.”
A spokesman for Hans Riemer, the political director for Rock the Vote, said the lack of campus campaigning this fall is not intentional and that his organization takes these midterm elections as seriously as the Presidential race.
“There are so many issues that are so important to young people this fall,” he said. “From jobs to the economy to the war, this year young people are going to be electing officials that will set the agenda for the first years their generation are grown-ups, it is incredibly important that they vote.”
A.J. Chambers, a 2006 TCU graduate, said he think people his age don’t vote because they don’t think these issues are important to them.
“Voting doesn’t matter until you are married and have kids and have to start thinking about educating them,” Chambers said. “People my age don’t vote because we don’t have any concept of context. We haven’t really seen if it’s been good or bad so we don’t know if voting for something or someone will make it better or worse.”
Chambers said he does not plan to vote Tuesday.
Some students on the other hand do think the issues are important and think voting Tuesday will make their voice heard.
Senior English major Lindsay Beattie said she will vote.
“It’s my way of making my voice heard in the political system,” she said.
Beattie, who serves as the chairman of the elections and regulations committee on TCU’s Student Government Association, said the fact that less than 20 percent of her peers vote does not surprise her.
“That’s about how many vote in TCU elections,” Beattie said.
She added that she understands it’s harder for many college students to vote because of the hassle of securing an absentee ballot.
Texans make up 75.9 percent of TCU’s student body; for these students not from Tarrant County, voting in Texas meant securing a mail-in absentee ballot by Oct. 10. For the 20 percent of students from out of state, voting is sometimes a bigger challenge.
“Absentee voting requires prior planning,” Carter said. “Deciding to vote last minute becomes impractical if not impossible for many students, especially those currently far from home.”
Colorado native Kayla Thomas said she would have voted, but figured she couldn’t since she wouldn’t be home on election day.
“I didn’t know the process I would have to go through to vote down here,” said Thomas, a sophomore math major. “It seems like too much effort for too little payoff.”
Senior entrepreneurial management major Bryce Powell, an Oregon native, said he has always voted absentee.
“My parents pick up my absentee ballot and mail it to me usually,” Powell said.
He added that he won’t be voting this election.
“Honestly, I completely forgot there even was an election until just now when I realized I haven’t gotten a ballot in the mail yet,” he said.
Powell said he doesn’t mind not voting this election though, because he doesn’t think anything important is on the ballot.
Beattie said she disagrees.
“We’re electing Congress, which is the backbone of our government,” she said. “We have to vote so that government goes the places we want to go as a society. This is how we as a generation can have our voice heard.”
On Tuesday’s ballot in Texas is this district’s House Representative and one of Texas’ Senators and countless statewide races for state senate and judicial seats.
Also, the hotly contested gubernatorial race, where one candidate in particular is counting on the young vote to give him a shot at the state’s top office.
Kinky Friedman, an independent candidate, says in campaign publicity that he is counting on young people who don’t normally vote to turn out this week.
When he visited TCU earlier this year, Friedman told TCU students that their votes would be key in pulling off the kind of upset he is hoping for.