Primaries Reveal Mixed Undergrad Engagement

Every election season, the topic of perceived undergraduate political apathy returns to the forefront of campus debate. The recent Democratic primaries provided a fresh context in which to evaluate political engagement on campus.

Though most students indicated they were politically aware, some were unable or unwilling to vote. Two University students said they unintentionally did not vote in last week’s Wisconsin primary. Amelia Robertson ’04 was unaware of the date of the primary and Nathan Floody ’05 forgot to register for an absentee ballot. Another Wisconsin resident, Heather Foster ’04, said she never planned to vote in the primary. “I would say I am a good example of the political apathy on campus,” Foster said.

ROOTS OF DISINTEREST Students have offered various opinions as to the root of the alleged political disengagement on campus. Scott Stewart ’05 said, “It comes down to whether one desires to be a responsible, active player in the molding of society … or if one resigns himself to being a passive victim of circumstance.” Stewart said he kept abreast of presidential politics while he was abroad in England this past semester by streaming C-SPAN on his computer. But both Jay Saxon ’05, president of the College Democrats, and Evan Baehr ’05, president of the College Republicans, point to more logistical factors, namely time and effort. They both said that the process of registering to vote and applying for the absentee ballot is often time-consuming and complicated – a process sometimes exacerbated by problems with the mail system.”I think students are personally interested in politics, but they are not as likely to do anything about it,” Saxon said. Baehr said some students may also feel limited by the two-party system. However, Brianna Stout ’05 has identified a niche beyond the confines of the two major parties — she is registered as an Independent in Ohio. While she has not committed to any particular third party, she did participate in grassroots initiatives promoted by the Green Party. “I will not be voting in any primary, though I do not consider it a result of apathy,” Stout said. Moreover, some students from Wisconsin exhibited an active interest in the politics of their state. Both Jamie Jeanne ’05 and Shannon Smith ’05 mailed their absentee ballots for last Tuesday’s primary. In addition, Smith said she wrote six or seven letters to undecided Democrats encouraging them to vote for Gov. Howard Dean. “I don’t think there’s any more political apathy at Princeton than there is on any other campus, but we are very removed from the primary scene, as many people at this school are from out of state,” Smith said.

NEW JERSEY VOTERSSome students who feel removed from their home states decide to register in New Jersey instead. Jess Aisenbrey ’05 said she registered in New Jersey during her freshman year and has since voted in almost every election. However, she plans to switch back to her home state, Missouri, for the November election, where she said she believes her vote will be more effective. New York resident Zach Goldstein ’05 said he plans to register in New Jersey in order to vote in the November election and to participate in Princeton borough council politics.