High youth turnout played a big role in Barack Obama’s win four years ago. But a recent Gallup poll found that far fewer voters age 18 to 29 are planning to vote this time around – about 20 percent fewer, in fact.
Students from the Center for Collaborative Journalism talked to their classmates at Mercer University and at other Middle Georgia colleges to find out why.
18-year-old Cassidy Gilbert at Wesleyan College said she’s not planning on voting this fall because she doesn’t like either major party candidate.
"I feel Mitt Romney, he’s too focused on being too conservative and I just don’t personally like him because, as a woman, I don’t agree with his views on abortion and things of that nature," Gilbert said. "And with Obama I don’t feel like he’s kept a lot of his promises and that some things have gotten worse."
A lot of students also said they don’t like the candidates, but one student said he doesn’t like voting at all. "It don’t really count as nothin’, because we don’t really decide who wins," said Central Georgia Technical College student Michael Smith. "They already know, you know? They pick who wins."
We asked Smith, "who’s they?" "The government," he replied.
Many of the students we talked to didn’t seem very engaged, even those who preferred one candidate over the other. At Wesleyan, 19-year-old Artishea Tripp told us she missed the registration deadline, though if she hadn’t, she’d be voting for Obama. "I like the changes he wants to make as far as getting the deficit up, or whatever," she said.
For the record, Obama says he wants to bring the deficit down, not up. Tripp probably just misspoke, but we talked to a lot of students who didn’t seem to have the facts straight.
24-year-old Yuliana Del Rio at Central Georgia Tech said she’s voting for Romney because she doesn’t like Obama’s healthcare law. But she also said this about the president: "He wants to take the social security away and all that stuff for people that are… is it 60, or when they’re older?"
Actually it’s Romney’s plan for fixing social security that calls for gradually raising the retirement age. Obama has said every option should be "on the table," but hasn’t explicitly endorsed raising the retirement age.
One issue that did seem to engage a lot of students was the cost of tuition, but even there we found confusion over the facts.
Fort Valley State University freshman Breanah Brown is planning to vote for Obama. She believes Romney would take away student aid. "A lot of us honestly would not be in college if it wasn’t for the HOPE or wasn’t for Pell or any other scholarships that we would get," Brown said, audibly upset. "So I feel like if Romney plans on taking that away from us there’s gonna be fewer kids in college."
Other students we talked to also mentioned the HOPE scholarship, but that’s a state program in Georgia, so it’s not something the next president will directly control. The Pell Grant is a federal program, and in one of the recent debates, Romney said he wants to "keep [it] growing," though he’s also said he wants to focus it on the most needy students.
Mercer political science professor Chris Grant says he’s not surprised to hear that some students are uninformed or unengaged.
"I think one of the real sad byproducts of the negative campaigning that has become so much a part of our public life is that it disillusions people all together," Grant said. "Especially when you live in a state like Georgia which is not electorally competitive as a national race, you feel disconnected, disenfranchised, and as if you don’t really matter in the election."
Grant said today’s young people have grown up in a time when campaigns have become all about winning, not facts, and that politicians and the media are equally to blame.