The Myth of the Apathetic College-Age Voter
It is readily apparent in small college towns, but not just in those locales, that the “townies” or “local folk” look down on the college population, especially when it comes to issues of local concern, like regulating noise pollution at night, traffic problems, etc. They think that it’s okay to dismiss the concerns of these college students because they are transitory – they won’t live in Gainesville, for example, except for their time at UF, never mind that there will always be as many as 50,000 students at UF, many living in Gainesville, even if they aren’t the same 50,000.
One favorite excuse of the locals for ignoring the concerns of a “transitory” population that represents at least one-third of Gainesville’s actual residents, is that college students don’t pay attention to local politics, that they’re apathetic, that they just don’t care.
And when it comes to electing a City Commissioner, the student-heavy precincts do show some often disturbingly low turnout rates, even whent a student activist is running. But there are some explanations there – city elections are almost always held at an odd time of year (the spring) in odd years, they are often held during Spring Break, a lot of college students keep their voter registration where they grew up because they know the politicians there better, there is very little effort to reach out to our population except maybe an occassional town hall with Student Government, and many college students don’t actually live inside the city limits, but often just outside of it (making them ineligible to vote for city commissioner even if they spend most of their time in the city).
But here’s the kicker, and here’s where the apathy is shown as nothing more than a myth. For all their bluster about student apathy, the local population is often at least as apathetic, if not more so, than the “transitory” student population can be!
Consider this: in March 2007, the city of Gainesville recently re-elected its Mayor. Of 55,808 registered voters, only 7,377 came out to re-elect the popular mayor. In 2008, the Gator Party won a solid victory in the Student Government elections. Of 51,913 students, about 8,129 came out to vote – which is impressive when you consider that none of the satellite campuses or distance-learning students had a method of voting unless they drove to the main campus (yet another very good reason to enact online voting by the way!).
So, Gainesville re-elects its mayor on 13.22% turnout, and UF elects a student body president on 15.66% turnout. And yet it’s the students who are apathetic about voting and local affairs? If I were the Gainesville political elite, I’d shut up about student apathy and be glad that many students simply are ineligible to vote in local elections – otherwise the status quo might be easily overturned and a new political elite be put into office.