Elections expect drop in turnout among students
Analysts attribute decrease in newly registered voters to lack of interest following 2008 election; Hurt remains front-runner in polls
In 2008, Tom Perriello came from behind to defeat Republican incumbent Virgil Goode for the Fifth District congressional seat.
This year, it appears the Democrat is now the one trailing behind and will fight to hold onto his seat in the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
Perriello will face Republican challenger Robert Hurt and independent candidate Jeffrey Clark, who is affiliated with the Tea Party. Perriello and Hurt are the front-runners, but Hurt has taken a significant lead in the polls. High turnout among students, who historically vote Democratic, may be a boon to Perriello, said Isaac Wood, communications director at the Center for Politics and a former Cavalier Daily opinion columnist.
Unfortunately for Perriello, the midterm elections are expected to attract fewer student voters than in 2008, according to Rock the Vote, an organization which promotes youth participation in elections. The group has reported registering 280,000 young voters for this year's midterm elections, a dramatic decline from the 2.5 million voters the organization registered before elections in 2008.
Rock the Vote conducted a nationwide survey in August, polling 18- to 29-year-olds about their attitudes toward politics. Half of the respondents said they were very likely to vote in the November elections. Forty-one percent said they were able to pay "some" attention to the midterm elections.
Turnout from University students next week will be "certainly lower than in 2008," Wood said. "It is a midterm election and not a presidential election. Also, 2008 set a high bar because Obama managed to excite a lot of young people."
Additionally, many students at the University who do not live in the fifth district are registered at home and would have to change their registration location to vote in Charlottesville, further decreasing the numbers likely to vote in the race, Wood said.
As a result, Perriello has been working to make his presence felt among University students especially, going so far as to offer University students rides to the polls next Tuesday. Students can reserve seats on these free shuttles on Perriello's website.
"Perriello felt that by registering students he could get some extra votes," Wood said. "He has been working especially vigilantly."
The Center for Politics conducts a voter registration coalition each year, and Perriello also has run an aggressive registration campaign.
Albemarle County has seen a significant decrease in the number of new registrants since the 2008 presidential election, as well.
Oct. 12 was the registration deadline for the upcoming election, and only 2,714 new registrations were received. Two years ago, in anticipation of the presidential election, 6,171 new registrations were filed in Albemarle County.
"Virginia is an important battleground state where young people have historically made a difference by turning out in large numbers," Rock the Vote spokesperson Maegan Carberry said in an e-mail. "The Millennial generation is the largest and most diverse in history, so even an increase of 2 percentage points in a given precinct can expand the electorate and be the determining factor in a race"