Election season draws near
College Republicans, University Democrats gear up for presidential vote in Nov.
Student political activism has a long lineage at the University, which has become increasingly apparent as Election Day draws nearer. President Barack Obama continues to await the selection of a presidential challenger from the Republican Party, which still has four candidates seeking its nomination: Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum.
The College Republicans and University Democrats are both gearing up for the presidential election, waiting impatiently for a Republican candidate to be chosen.
The College Republicans have not been able to officially endorse or support a candidate, second-year College student and College Republicans Communications Director Peter Finocchio said. But the organization sent delegates to the Conservative Political Action Conference held last weekend in Washington D.C.
"Right now I would say [our biggest goal] has been about self-awareness," first-year College student and College Republicans member Brennan Pieroni said. "We haven't been doing much about the [Virginia] primary, instead we're focused on staying on top of current events and news."
The College Republicans plan to begin campaigning in the fall.
"For the fall we're going to do a lot to campaign for the party's nominee. We'll be making calls and going door to door," Finocchio said. "When it comes down to it we'll support the Republican candidate because we think the Republican candidate is closer to our views than the Democratic candidate."
Members of the University Democrats also have to wait for the selection of the Republican nominee before they fully begin their campaign efforts.
"Right now we're mostly working on voter registration because there is no candidate yet for Obama to be running against, so we're mostly focused on getting people in the U.Va. and Charlottesville area ready to vote," second-year College student and University Democrats Secretary Amanda Laskey said.
The University Democrats plan to focus on promoting grassroots activism, which is built upon their three-pronged system of voter registration, canvassing and phone banking.
"On February 25 and 26 there's going to be an Organizing for America convention in Richmond for young voters, and we'll be attending that, and that will start the canvassing and phone banking season," Laskey said.
University Democrats President James Schwab said the group is optimistic for 2012.
"There's going to be a lot of excitement around Grounds next fall especially, as well as later this semester," Schwab said. "We're just trying to encourage college students to get involved and get to know the candidates and what they've accomplished in the past.
Get out and vote
The intricacies of the voter registration process can make voting difficult, especially for students, Laskey said. Students usually change their address every year, so for each election they have to fill out a change-of-address form.
While it can be complicated for students to register, it will be easier for them to do so in Virginia in 2012 than it was in 2008 because of changes in residency requirements.
Unlike most states Virginia requires a voter to have a "place of abode," which means the voter must have a physical home in Virginia, as well as a "domicile," which means the voter intends to remain in Virginia for an unlimited time. A 2010 report by ProjectVote summarized the impact of this law on the 2008 elections and studied how Virginia has worked to make the voter registration process more open to college students.
Following the 2008 election the state worked to correct the problem of voter registration by requiring registrars to assume that a voter's residence is always his "domicile."
Next fall the College Republicans hope to have a stronger presence on Grounds and to improve their voter registration efforts.
"I think we should be doing more to have a stronger presence on Grounds to get [the students] interested and get them motivated," Finocchio said.
The University Democrats also intend to focus on encouraging voter participation in the University community.
"Voter registration is definitely going to be a focus of ours going forward, and hopefully we'll be able to register a lot of students and get them involved in the political process," Schwab said.
Talkin' bout the young folks
Voter registration goes hand in hand with voter turnout rate. The youth voter turnout rate for the 2008 election was 51.5 percent, the third-highest rate ever in the United States, according to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Nearly two million more people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in the 2008 presidential election than in the 2004 elections.
Geoff Skelley, a political analyst at the University's Center for Politics, said he does not expect the number of young voters to increase in the 2012 election.
"In 2008 it was an election when two-thirds of the electorate between 18 and 29 voted for Obama because he had a 'change' message," Skelley said. "I think a lot of people are bitter, tired, don't feel like there's been much change. I'm not saying that they won't vote for Obama, but maybe they won't vote at all because they are becoming more apathetic, because they feel like politics isn't working for them."
University Politics Prof. James Savage also said the youth vote will decrease, because he does not think young people are as excited as they were in 2008.
"I think that young people who voted for Obama will still vote for him, but I don't think the level of enthusiasm for him will be as great or the turnout will be as great," Savage said. "The problem of disappointment is not just with Obama but is with all the candidates."
The low turnout rates at the primary elections show that young people are not as invigorated as they were in 2008, Skelley said.
"The expectations for this election, in general, are lower at all levels," he said. "I think it's going to be a bitter, ugly election. I think there's going to be a lot of negativity."
Voters in 2012 may be a lot more typical of the kind of voters who went to the polls in 2004, Skelley added.
"The election may, in a sense, be a lot like 2004 where you had an incumbent with menial approval ratings going up against a candidate who wasn't beloved by the party that supported him," Skelley said.
The economy: an 'overriding concern'
As fourth years contemplate their procession down the Lawn and into post-graduation employment, the economy takes on an increasingly tangible meaning.
"The economy is perhaps even more acutely important for people who are 20 years old and going to enter the job force in the coming years," Skelley said.
University graduates want to see change after the 2007 recession so they can find a place for themselves in the increasingly competitive job-market.
"I worry about the opportunities for my students," Savage said. "I think the economy has fundamentally changed now since the recession of 2007. There was some sense of promise that Obama would be able to change this, and I think this is an over-optimistic belief."
When University students go to the polls this November they need to know the pertinent issues, which will impact them long after the 2012 elections.
"The struggle for all voters is to hear real answers to important questions on the economy, on foreign affairs and on the future of the country," Savage said.