Battle for the young vote

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By: Michelle Hu <mhu@hilite.org>

Every student in senior Megan Edelstein’s AP Government class had to give a review presentation. She said her group’s assignment involved the topic of how media affects voting, which was quite timely as MTV and MySpace launched a new campaign just a couple of days before Edelstein’s presentation date.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the number one reason for young adults (38 percent) ages 18 to 29 not
registering to vote was that they were “not interested in the election or not involved in politics.” Another 4 percent said that “my vote would not make a difference.”

Because of statistics such as those compiled by CIRCLE, MTV and MySpace began “Presidential Dialogues” on Sept. 27.

The campaign consists of video footage airing on MTV of actual voters having one-on-one conversations with presidential candidates. The first to participate was candidate John Edwards, but according to MTV’s web site, all of the major Democratic and Republican candidates have agreed to participate.

Government teacher Joe Stuelpe said he tells his students on the first day that his class is the most practical because it teaches students about candidates and voting.
According to him, “Why not (be knowledgeable about politics)? You live here; government affects you. You exercise your right to have a say in what they do.”

Stuelpe said, “and to do that requires a minimum amount of knowledge so you know what each person stands for so you’re not just voting because Obama was on Oprah or because Hillary is married to Bill, so you are making a legitimately good decision based on what you think is the best direction for the country.”

Although Stuelpe said that it is imperative for students to vote, Edelstein said that instead of the media being proactive, it should be the school taking more initiative to help students vote.

She said that one of the reasons students have a low voting rate is because of their full schedules, which she thinks the school should take into account.

According to Edelstein, “(Voting is already) hard because we’re all so busy. You know, I would encourage voting by letting us out of school to vote. I know that’s a lot, and that it’s a lot to ask of the administration, but I think that it’s a really important part of being American and it’s a really important part of the learning process.” Edelstein said she noticed that students may miss school for a variety of reasons, including doctor’s appointments and family deaths, but not voting.

Sophomore Alicia “Ali” Graham is one student who said she is involved in politics and definitely plans to vote when she turns 18. Over the summer, when enrolled in an English 10-2 course, she voiced her opinions on the problems of teen voting.

Graham said that she chose student voting as the topic for her problem speech.

“I had wanted to do something that was about government, and I talked to (speech teacher John) Love since he was our sub that day and then I kind of came up with that idea because it’s something that is actually true and that you actually need to focus on, you need to pay attention to that a lot of teens don’t, so it is a problem,” she said.

Graham is not yet voting age, but she said that campaigns like Presidential Dialogues would “for sure” be beneficial to young adults. “Since (media elements are) such popular things, just one person saying ‘Yeah, you should go vote’ is nothing compared to MTV or MySpace or Facebook saying, ‘Go vote’ because people get on those every single day of their lives,” she said.

In addition, according to research conducted by CIRCLE, in the last presidential election, only 49 percent of all adults ages 18-29 voted, even though 70 percent had registered to vote.

Graham said that when she turns 18, she will definitely register to vote for all that she can, including presidential and state elections, and even proposed bills that will affect her life.

“(Teenagers should vote) because it’s a way to get our voice heard since we’re so young,” she said. “It’s hard just to have our voice heard and by voting, it’s really the only thing that have a choice in with our government, and voting who leads us is the way to do it.”
Edelstein said that she will be of age when the 2008 presidential elections occur, but only if she is well-educated on the candidates, and not because the media encourages it.

“At the end of the day, the media is a great thing to try to help people to vote,” she said, “but it’s really not a positive impact on voting.”

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