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American politics: A world outside the college bubble

In the onslaught of pre-class parties, first-year debauchery and general rowdiness that defines late August at the University, the world of American politics gradually has become a dull afterthought in the minds of University students.

In fact, if statistics prove correct, few students besides members of the University Democrats and College Republicans will pay any attention to the contents of this page.

With the nation facing a crucial midterm election in just two months, the American political landscape is heating up across the country -- everywhere, that is, except on college campuses. Once again, this year's 18-to-24-year-old voter turnout is expected to reach all time lows. A mere 17 percent of young voters participated in the last midterm election in 1998. Many politicians and political analysts, in fact, already have written off the college age voting bracket as insignificant in this year's election.

Yet, in an America forever changed by the events of Sept. 11 and with a narrowly divided U.S Senate and House of Representatives both up for grabs, the November elections will signal the direction America takes in a year of immense social and political change. Additionally, many will look to the elections as a review of George W. Bush's presidency -- Nov. 5 surely will decide more than simply 36 governorships, 34 Senate seats and every House seat.

"It's a critical election year because the margins in the House and the Senate are so tiny, which will matter enormously for policies of all sorts, from education to a possible war in Iraq," Politics Prof. Larry J. Sabato said.

Most University students also do not realize the fate of Virginia's higher education system rests at stake in November. The critically important General Obligation Bond Projects will be up for voter approval this year. If passed, the bill will provide close to $900 million in funds for higher education in Virginia, including new construction and renovations.

"In-state there isn't much going on congressionally, but the bond issue directly affects the University of Virginia as we have one of the largest projects in that package, mostly for projects in the College of Arts and Sciences," Sabato said.

Close to $70 million of this funding is earmarked for projects at the University.

This year marks only the fourth time in Virginia history that the ballot will include a general obligation bond bill. The last referendum, placed on the ballot in 1992, passed with an overwhelming majority. Gov. Mark R. Warner and higher education officials across the state plan to appeal to students, faculty and parents for support of this bond bill.

Yet amid all this fall election drama, if past trends continue, the typical University student probably will remain ignorant of such issues. Traditionally, few students pay attention to primaries or general elections in a midterm election year, and even fewer take the time to register for and vote via absentee ballot.

Come Nov. 5, however, University students may face a changed political landscape on both the local and national level. Tight Senate races in states from Texas to New Hampshire, close governor's races from South Carolina to Minnesota, and a Virginia bond bill that could potentially sway the fate of the University in the coming years all will affect students -- whether they have one, two, three or four years left at Mr. Jefferson's University.

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