Originally Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2012, 7:15 pm
Last Updated: Oct. 21, 2012, 12:52 pm

Political participation on Q-C campuses down from 2008

Comment on this story

By Anthony Watt, awatt@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Black Hawk College sophomores Jay Miller, center, and Ruth Jessee, left, listen as faculty adviser Joan Eastlund leads the Black Hawk College Democrat Club in a discussion in Moline on Wednesday. The collaborative group meets weekly to discuss politics.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Black Hawk College sophomore Dylan Anderson, left, makes a point as fellow Black Hawk College Democrat Club members listen during their weekly meeting on campus in Moline on Wednesday.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
A half dozen Black Hawk College students talk about politics and the recent Presidential debates during a meeting of the Black Hawk College Democrats Club in Moline on Wednesday.

Political participation among college students does not appear to be as robust on many Quad-Cities' campuses this year as it was during the 2008 elections.

"There certainly has been less energy on campus than there was four years ago," Steve Klien, Augustana professor of communication studies, said. He helped organize the college's debate watch series this year.

Other college-level teachers from around the Quad-Cities who teach or follow government and politics have also reported that involvement is not as broad as it was during the last presidential election.

Betsey Morthland, the staff adviser for Black Hawk College's student Republicans, said she is not seeing the same number of political T-shirts or bumper stickers this election cycle.

"We have a few dedicated students who are getting involvedPoli but little mass involvement," Christopher M. Whitt, assistant professor of political science at Augustana, said.

Richard J. Hardy, a Western Illinois University political science professor, said something similar for WIU's Macomb campus -- a core of active students but not the same level of activity as 2008 generated.

Teachers listed various reasons for participation levels.

Mr. Klien said the students he's observed or interacted with seem to have less of a sense of the 2012 election's importance.

Some of their reasons have been a lack of understanding of the issues, or not seeing how those issues apply to them, he said.

During the 2008 election, Barack Obama was something new, and his campaign generated a lot of energy, some of the teachers said. He is not as novel now.

"Engagement four years ago was trendy," Mr. Klien said.

Ms. Morthland said she is seeing disenchantment with the direction the country has taken.

Mr. Whitt believes that the campaigns may not be targeting the college demographic nearly as much as they were the last time around.

When the issues of this election have come up with students, college funding and debt, as well as post-education employment have been frequent topics, teachers said.

"They're wondering where the jobs will be when they graduate," Mr. Hardy said.

Less involvement does not mean no involvement, however.

Students have been turning out to group debate-watching events, have been canvassing and/or are members of the campus Democratic and Republican groups.

Ms. Morthland said the Black Hawk political clubs are more active than they have ever been.

To Joan Eastlund, Ms. Morthland's counterpart for the Black Hawk Democrats, involvement seems to be at a moderate level.

A significant number of the students in her classes have been watching the debates and, from what she has heard, are otherwise paying attention.

Ms. Eastlund said she has helped a number of students register to vote.

Some of the teachers have reported equal or even more participation compared to 2008.

William Roba, professor of history at Scott Community College, believes more students are involved at Scott this year -- there was a steady stream of Scott Community students going to an early voting booth recently set up on campus.

There appears to be a similar level of activity in 2012 compared to 2008 at St. Ambrose University, Bill Parsons, an SAU political science professor, said. But there is also a much more dedicated effort in this election cycle to get students involved -- the student government held issue forums and there have been other events designed to help get the students' attention.

Important issues among the more engaged students varied widely when they were asked, though education funding and jobs did come up.

Bennett Hartmann, 18, an Augustana student, said he is skeptical of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

"I just don't think it was a good idea," Mr. Hartmann, a Republican who intends to vote for Mr. Romney, said. "I think it was rushed through."

For Julia McKinney, a 20-year-old student at WIU's new Moline campus, the concern is taxes. She said she has concerns about Mitt Romney's tax plan.

Ms. McKinney, who described herself as a liberal rather than by party, fears it might affect her family negatively.

Other students' concerns included gas prices, the deficit and marriage equality.

Reasons for students' interest in politics also varied. Among their inspirations were parents whose active interest influenced their children's decision, while in others it was a school class, and for other, the interest was just always there.

"I've always been interested in politics, so I was excited to register and vote," Judah Kennedy, one Black Hawk's Republican students, said. "This is a great time to get involved because the stakes are very high right now.

"We already have high government debt and underfunded entitlements," he continued. "Add some time, inflation, and another recession, and we could very easily go the way of Greece, Italy, and Spain."

For their contemporaries who may not be involved, those students, regardless of affiliation, said getting into the election process is important because what happens in this election will affect their age group now and for years to come, or that change only comes about with input into the process.

"Every word counts," Dylan Anderson, 20, a Democrat at Black Hawk, said. "Every idea you have, every discussion you have. We've got to engage and make our voices heard."