Angst, indecision for college voters

Economic issues, such as student debt and unemployment, weigh heavily on the college students who talked to MSN Money.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 18, 2012 11:27AM

Image: Cornell University (© Hemera Technologies/Jupiterimages)By Karen Aho, MSN Money


It was fitting that the first question in Tuesday's presidential debate was posed by an undecided college student, who asked how the candidates could assure him -- and his parents -- that he would be able to support himself after graduation.


Young voters like him represent the largest bloc of still-undecided voters, with as many as 10% or more still unsure how, or even if, they'll vote, say analysts. Chief among these voters' concerns are jobs and the economy.


Students who graduated from college in 2010 had a 9.1% unemployment rate, the highest in recent history, according to The Project on Student Loan Debt. And two thirds of those at four-year colleges or universities graduated with debt. Their average load: $25,250, a 5% increase over 2009.


"Frankly, it's grim for young people out there," said Alyssa Farah, the communications director for the College Republican National Committee, which has made the economy the focus of its campus membership drive this election.  "We constantly ask: Are you better off than you were four years ago?"


But while the College Republicans have added to their rolls, and a significant number of young Americans say they're disappointed by the Obama administration (40% in a poll from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), plenty of students appear to still be waiting for concrete prescriptions that go beyond the "Are you better off?" question.

Aram Bedrosian, a senior in neuroscience and health communications at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has certainly been paying attention. As events coordinator for the Commonwealth Honors College UMass honors society, he has been organizing political events to educate students.


But even he's undecided. And the candidates' answers to that first debate question on jobs hardly clarified matters.


"I don't think either of them really addressed how they would create jobs, outside of the rhetoric that the main job creation is in science, engineering and technology," Bedrosian said. "I haven't gotten clear answers from either candidate on how they're going to move forward."


The youth vote matters

Among all eligible voters, 21% are young adults, or from the ages of 18 to 29, more than enough to flip the outcome in a national election. (This graphic from CIRCLE, at Tufts University, shows the dramatic degree to which the numbers of youth voters exceeds the vote margin in key battleground states in 2008.)


"We're young and we're energetic, and if we can get it together we make a pretty powerful force," said Aviv Celine, who heads the voter registration drive for the student-run Center for Education Policy & Advocacy at UMass.


But enthusiasm on U.S. campuses isn't what it was four years ago, when President Barack Obama took 66% of the youth vote to John McCain's 32%.


According to a late-September poll from the Pew Research Center, only about half as many voters under 30 were following campaign news as were at the same time in 2008 (18% compared with 35%), while the percent of young registered voters who said they definitely planned to vote had dropped from 72% to 63%.


It's not hard to find students on campus like Taylor Butts, who said he is not informed enough to vote.


"I know more about politics in the 1800s than I do about politics now," said Butts, a 22-year-old English major who wrote in comedian Steven Colbert for president in 2008.


"I think voting can be detrimental because you get a whole lot of people like me, who don't know anything, voting, and it's dangerous," he said. "And there are people who know even less than me and they're going out and voting, or people are telling them who to vote for."


Kirsten Boyd, a 22-year-old studying hospitality at UMass, has been weighing the positions of her father, a Republican afraid of higher taxes on the wealthy, and her mother, a Democrat concerned about job creation, as well as doing her own reading via multiple news sources. She ignores political advertisements as untrustworthy.


"I'm not nearly as informed as I thought I was in 2008," said Boyd, who voted for Obama then but now remains undecided.


Ismail Eddafali , a 21-year-old studying biology and English, supports Obama.


“My number one reason is student debt,” he said. “Right now I’m pretty OK with the loan that I have and financial aid.”


If Obama wins, he said, “I would keep what I have. With Romney, it doesn’t look like that will be possible, and tuition’s going wild.”

Sean Van Anglen, a junior at New England Community College, thinks the federal government should expand grants for higher education and supports Obama’s Dream Act, a proposal that would grant legal status to some young immigrants, including those who served in the military.


But when it comes to jobs, he supports Romney for a single reason: Romney has experience as a business person.


“When you think about jobs, it’s something in the business world, and Romney has that experience,” he said.


Peter Levine, the director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, said he's not surprised to hear college voters are disregarding political advertisements and researching issues on their own.


"The turnout of young people tends to be quite poor, but those who do vote tend to be quite thoughtful," he said. "I think young voters are going through a learning process and are aware of that."


Jeremy Epstein, the 20-year-old Adelphi University student who asked that first debate question, told reporters Wednesday that he had probably made up his mind. Although he wouldn't say which candidate he now supported, his comments suggested that his decision was based more on style than substance.


On CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," Epstein said: "I think that Gov. Romney's business experience did sway me a little bit, but the way the president spoke to me and kind of said you know, 'We believe in the youth of America' . . . that really, you know, hit a soft spot, and I understood what he was talking about."


At 18, I knew I wanted to work for myself one day. I didn't and still don't believe that will be more likely with Obama, or a Democratic President.

Dems.- Bigger Gov. , less individual freedom.

Reps.- Smaller Gov. , more individual freedom.

Whatever choice you make younger people, it will impact you. Choose wisely.

Oct 19, 2012 2:57PM

Welcome to the real world.  Four years ago, Hope & change ideals were the sales pitch that ushered in four years of redistributing the nations wealth, and plundering the treasury.  Joe Wilson recognized what Obama was early, and the courage to call him out...............a  LIAR!  


Your vote can end it!  Please Do!

Oct 20, 2012 2:17AM
No doubt BO is a good campaigner, but do you want talk or reality? We don't need 4 more years like the last and what has BO said or done to indicate that'll change. He can't run on what he's done. He has no choice but to discredit/attack Romney. From day 1 that was his campaigns whole agenda. Bain Capital, killing people, throwing Granny off a cliff, fear mongering and hate mongering. I've read that this is not the worst campaign in history----that others have gotten lower and messier. I've seen BO's work or lack of it. I'll take a shot on Romney and we might, just might, get something done in this country. With BO, there's no way but down. Do you want to move the needle or just stay at the status quo? 
Oct 19, 2012 9:12AM
Democrat or Republican; different sides of the same coin. If college students studied politics and history a little more aggressively, it would become apparent that the two party system (and a partisan Congress) et-al, is the driving force behind the demise of U.S. America. In modern times it is necessary for a person to figure out that success comes in spite of, rather than because of, the government. The country is now run by big money, not moral principle or conviction. 
Oct 20, 2012 8:35AM

Watch Obama's America before you vote.  Watch online free here...

Oct 18, 2012 6:17PM

I ASSUME all college graduates leave school having been required to study enough history, never mind reading books like ROAD TO SERFDOM, to intelligently assess competing models of economic, social, and degree of individual freedom to vote in a way that best serves their own interests.

If personal ambition,  a desire for economic security , opportunities to practice freedom of choice even at the risk of personal failure appeal to you, the republicans are messaging to you. If your world view is that government owes you some guarantee of success, the Dems are calling.

In my opinion, neither party has much to sell. For decades they have colluded together to hand you a debt level that if you are capable of simple math, you will quickly realize will make it much more difficult to gain traction in life, economically speaking. Add your student debt, youre in even deeper. If you studied Medivial poetry, shift work at Wal Mart or Target are among your better job chioces.

Since, I am addressing mostly recent graduates, I urge you to band together, push for term limits for ALL politicians, local, state or federal. Without a competing contrary party, what you have is what you will get.

I am an independent and too old to shape our longer term in this country but you all can start now. Put aside your political differences and come to terms with the fact this country is broke. Even if it seems in your best interest to favor political appeals that promise to bail you out, money for that isnt there and dont be tricked into believing printing and brrowing money to buy your vote exempts you and your family from receiving the bill someday.

The only situation where FREE has any validity  is in a fall.   WE ARE THERE..

Oct 21, 2012 9:48PM
The Barack Obama campaign--------grin and spin.
Oct 21, 2012 9:45AM
My son and daughter attend college and the majority of students are worried about getting jobs after graduation according to their input. Their piers have a less than favorable opinion on how Obama has handled the economy. What has happened in Benghazi Lybia and their perception on how the Pres has out right lied to the American people has been the tipping point to select someone other than Obama.
Oct 18, 2012 7:38PM

how come nobody talks about NAFTA, thats the king pin that needs to be wiped out Ross Perrow said when he was running for President , "turn on your vacuum cleaner ,do you hear that sucking sound ? thats the sound of american jobs leaving this country because of NAFTA " was there anybody listening??? 


Just as the young person in the article was wise to ignore political ads, in making there decision who to vote for, it would also be wise to ignore opinion boards, such as this board, in making one's decision who to vote for. It is highly likely, that there are people on these boards, that are being paid to post, and try to sway peoples votes. Sometimes the truth is ignored, with peoples opinions, and what is written here.

Best advice, I could give a young voter, is to do your own research, to find out when the American Dream ended, and when the standard of living, started declining for Americas middle class.

Oct 24, 2012 1:16PM
Hope people know that there is a third choice. And it's not the odds that should drive you to vote for your candidate, it's their platform and how it works for you. Just know that the decision isn't binary.

Oct 18, 2012 4:49PM

If you want tax breaks for the rich you`ll probable Romney for more corporate welfare.

Historically, the market has done much better with a Dem in the WH.Clinto,up228%

Bush down 37%, Obama up 66%.Facts people.If the reverse was true the Repubs would

be rubbing it in everybodies face every 2 minutes.

Oct 19, 2012 4:52PM
 Romney will return  student loans to the control of the banks which will add back in the costs that Obama has cut. He will also enact the Ryan budget which will cut education drastically, especially Pell grants to give tax cuts to the rich. His tax plan will also add $5 trillion to the national debt. Romney = Good for banks, good for the wealthy, bad for students.
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