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College Students Describe Election in One Word: Crazy

George Washington University is at the top of the list of U.S. schools with the “Most Politically Active Students” in 2016.

But students at the school say they are not so sure about that.

VOA asked several students about how politically active they are on a scale from one to 10.

None of the students put themselves higher than a six on that scale.

VOA also asked the students to describe the presidential election in one word.

Several said, "crazy."

The Princeton Review created the list of schools they say have high numbers of politically active students. The Princeton Review is an organization and publication that ranks U.S. colleges and universities each year in a book called "The Best 380 Colleges."

The Princeton Review surveys more than 136,000 students at 380 schools. But the organization told VOA that the list of politically active schools is based on only one question.

Student-run political groups have an active presence on campus: [Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neither Agree or Disagree, Agree, Strongly Agree]

Regan McAllister, 19, is a first-year student of international affairs and Asian studies at George Washington University, or GW. Originally from Niceville, Florida, McAllister says the reason politics are important at GW is the location: Washington, DC.

"Just being right by the White House and the Capitol and everything. Our professors and the students are constantly hearing about the news. And it kind of hard not to, because it’s right where we live. ... People with interests in politics come to GW to be among it all."

McAllister first started following politics when she studied in Turkey in 2015 before coming to GW.

"There was a big election that happened in June. Leading up to that election was when I really got into it and it was mostly Turkish politics at the time. I learned a lot about it and so that just kind of carried over when I came to college."

The political activity of young people can be hard to predict. For example, college-educated young people vote differently from young people who never attend college.

Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg is the director for the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE. CIRCLE is an organization based at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. CIRCLE studies the political activity of people in the U.S. younger than 30.

Kawashima-Ginsberg says college-educated young people are twice as likely to vote in primary elections as those with no college experience.

She says the 2008 campaign that elected President Barack Obama broke a 30-year record in numbers of young people involved. The 2012 campaign also had high numbers of young voters. But, she added, young people have trouble feeling connected to politics.

"We were hearing both from young people who are in college and out of college about how they perceive voting. For them, it was starting to become this old, outdated thing that has no relevance or impact. And that showed, truly, in voting statistics, where we recorded the lowest youth turnout ever in 2014."

Young people are not alone in their low turnout numbers. FairVote is an organization that studies U.S. democracy and elections. FairVote reported only about 36 percent of the entire voting population voted in the 2014 midterm election.

But, Kawashima-Ginsberg states, things are changing for young people once again. Some presidential candidates are gaining back the youth vote. Senator Bernie Sanders has received more than 1.5 million youth votes in the primary race, she says.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump have both received more than 600,000 youth votes.

Nancy Thomas is the director of the Institute for Democracy and Education, also at Tufts University. The institute started working on a project called The National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, or NSLVE, in 2013. NSLVE researchers examine enrollment and voting records from 2012 and 2014.

They use the information from these records to study the voting habits of U.S. college students.

Thomas says there is no other project like NSLVE. There are more college students now over the age of 30. Studies of young people find different results than studies only of college students.

She also says student movements like the Black Lives Matter protests show college campuses are important places for political activity.

"People in college… back in the ‘80s and ‘90s were pretty disengaged. And they were disengaged from public or civic life in general.

"But I think the combination of enthusiasm for these primaries and the last couple of years of student protests means that some kind of sleeping giant is being awakened."

Thomas adds that schools where politics are frequently discussed in class have the most politically active students. If professors use political examples in any subject, including math or history, students will see how important politics are.

Hanna Corn, 20, is a second-year student studying international affairs and political science at GW. Originally from Wilmington, New Jersey, Corn is also the membership director of the GW College Democrats. The GW College Democrats are a student group that supports the Democratic political party.

Corn says there are many political student groups and events at GW. Also, political discussion is everywhere.

"Students would be talking about it in line to get their food at cafeterias. You’d be in the library and you’d look over at people laughing and they’d be watching a political talk show. Even at a social gathering, people are discussing politics. ... Even when you don’t want to hear about it, it will be right outside your door… So you might as well reach out and also engage in it."

Corn joined the GW College Democrats in her first year because she wanted to learn more about the Democratic Party. But she says she has also learned a lot about people with different opinions from her own. She frequently talks and debates with members of the GW College Republicans.

"We share an office actually , so we are constantly exchanging ideas. … It’s good to learn both sides. ... But I think it’s very difficult to be a strident conservative or Republican at our campus because the Republicans even I know are not so far to the right.

"People that are more conservative don’t speak out. … But I think that there are more of them in our campus than you realize."

VOA reached out to the GW College Republicans but received no response.

Both Thomas and Kawashima-Ginsberg agree there is an increasing number of young Republicans voting in this primary. But Thomas says young Republicans care about different issues than older party members. Older members care more about terrorism, while young members care more about government spending.

Both younger and older Democrats seem to care about the same issues, she says. But fewer young people are joining any political party at all.

Kawashima-Ginsberg points out that technology plays a major role in how young people choose to be involved.

"Social media’s played a bigger role in this age. In a way, young people are able to organize themselves online with their like-minded peers and start some action or cause… without being told what might be helpful for a candidate or what they’re supposed to do for the campaign."

Thomas says that students entering the field of education vote more than any other group. Students studying math and science vote the least. Also, African-American students vote more than white, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American students.

But no matter how they vote, Thomas says, college students are a force that politicians will have to recognize.

"There are 18.5 million college students in this country. They could really shape the results of an election."

I’m Pete Musto.

Pete Musto reported and wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

How politically active are young people in your country? At your universities? Let us know in the comments section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

scalen. a range of numbers that is used to show the size, strength, or quality of something

rank(s) – v. to place someone or something in a particular position among a group of people or things that are being judged according to quality, ability or size

survey(s) – v. to ask many people a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something

campusn. the area and buildings around a university, college or school

primaryn. an election in which members of the same political party run against each other for the chance to be in a larger and more important election

perceive(d) – v. to think of someone or something as being something stated

outdatedadj. no longer useful or acceptable

relevancen. relationship to a subject in an appropriate way

turnoutn. the number of people who go to or participate in something

midterm election n. Congressional elections that occur halfway through a President's term of office

enrollmentn. people who are entered as a member of or participant in something

disengaged adj. no longer involved with a person or group

enthusiasm n. a strong feeling of active interest in something that you like or enjoy

giantn. a person or thing that is very large, powerful, or successful

classn. a series of meetings in which students are taught a particular subject or activity

political party ­– n. an organization of people who have similar political beliefs and ideas and who work to have their members elected to positions in the government

cafeteria(s) – n. a place such as a restaurant or a room in a school where people get food at a counter and carry it to a table for eating

stridentadj. expressing opinions or criticism in a very forceful and often annoying or unpleasant way

peer(s) – n. a person who belongs to the same age group or social group as someone else

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