By Michelle Davey
Student writer Michelle Davey caught up with dozens of students at Baker University Center in recent days to talk gauge their interest in the coming primary and general elections.
Senior Pam Olson understands the influence students can have on next week's Ohio primary election. She's not alone.
Pundits across the nation say today's college students wield enough political power to significantly impact this year's presidential race. And as they crisscross Ohio in the week leading up to Tuesday's primary, representatives of the Clinton and Obama campaigns certainly aren't ignoring Ohio University campuses.
But while the candidates may have a very transparent motive for bolstering their support at the polls, they may not be the only ones with a vested interest -- or the most to gain -- in the election.
"We should be the ones -- more than anyone else -- who are paying attention to what's going on," Olson says. "It's our future at stake."
The national stats
Nationwide, 88 percent of young people believe that, as a group, they have the power to change things in this country, according to a survey of 18- to 29-year-olds released Monday. Commissioned by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rock the Vote organization, the survey was conducted earlier this month by The Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners.
Findings demonstrate young voters feel empowered. They believe their votes are valuable and important; in fact, 78 percent say their votes will have significance in this election year.
Women and African-Americans, in particular, perceive an ability to make a difference. Of those surveyed, 62 percent of women believe their votes are valuable, as opposed to 57 percent of men. Seventy-five percent of African-Americans believe in youth's power to sway the vote, compared to 74 percent of Latinos and 69 percent of white respondents.
Eighty percent of those surveyed said they paid attention to this year's election at least somewhat closely. Of those surveyed, eight in 10 reported participating in at least one election-related activity.
Matt Morgan, an Ohio University sophomore, sees those statistics playing out every day. "Political activism among young people is huge for this election," he says. "It's everywhere you look, especially on a college campus."
Students say the candidates are smart to tap into the information sources today's youth use. "YouTube.com and other networking sites have made it easier for students to get motivated," says freshman Savannah Aepli.
In fact, Rock the Vote found that 34 percent of young adults surveyed have watched an online video of a candidate, and 24 percent have visited a campaign Web site.
Even Facebook has become a campaign tool. Students can "friend" their favorite candidate and convey their support on their profile pages.
The candidates' Facebook profiles may make them seem more accessible and real to young voters. For instance, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain lists fishing, boxing and baseball among his interests and "24" and "Seinfeld" as favorite TV shows. He's got the support of nearly 75,000 Facebook users.
Democratic hopeful Barack Obama lists "Casablanca" as a favorite movie; his contender, Hillary Clinton, is an "American Idol" fan. Obama outpaces Clinton in the "friends" category, boasting about 636,000 to Clinton's 125,000.
Whether inspired by this new campaign strategy or not, it seems the Facebook generation is ready to voice its opinion. Of those surveyed by Rock the Vote, 82 percent intend to vote in the November general election.
How they're voting
"I think that young people are becoming more interested in what's going on," says freshman Alana Burfield. "Many students are looking for a change."
An absentee voter, Burfield already cast her vote for Clinton. "I affiliate with her stance on things," Burfield says. "She can lead us out of the hole we've dug ourselves (into) in Iraq."
Matt Johnson, a sophomore, disagrees. His vote is going to Obama. "I like what he stands for," Johnson says. "I think it's time for a change, and he's genuine and really wants what the American people want."
Nearly half of the national survey sample identified themselves as Democrats, while 28 percent said they're Republican and 16 percent identified themselves as independents.
And while students might disagree about the candidates, but most seem to think voting is a priority.
"It ultimately impacts your daily life because of decisions made about things like the war and the environment," Burfield says. "I think it's important to contribute to society and know who you're putting into office."
Hype or reality?
Many students recognize that apathy could limit the impact of the youth vote in this year's contests.
"They don't feel that they are effective," freshman Jasmine Rogers says of some of her peers. But they're wrong, she adds "Look at the recount that happened (in 2000). If people had gone out to vote then there might have been a clear winner."
But sophomore John Rochford thinks all the hype about the youth vote is just that. "The youth haven't swayed the vote before, so why would they now?" Rochford says. "The youth won't vote in this election more than any other."
While disinterest and apathy might take its toll at the polls, student involvement appears to be on the rise. Of the young adults surveyed nationally, 75 percent believe young voters are making more of a difference this year than they have in previous elections.
"I think people our age are becoming more informed and want to be more involved," agrees senior David Miller.
Perhaps, more than anything, that's because the winner of this year's presidential election may in large part shape their futures, adds senior Mariah Sekerak. "Our generation is the one coming up and will be most affected by what happens. It's important for us to pick who we want."
Janelle Huelsman contributed to this story.