With the presidential election less than three months away, President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are effusively courting voters.
Both have consistently addressed American Association of Retired Persons groups, labor unions, farmers and small business owners throughout their campaigns.
Unfortunately, most college students are not senior citizens, farmers, business owners or members of a labor union. Politicians today do not have to court young voters in the same way as these other groups because a large segment of youth fails to consistently show up to the polls and solidify their political beliefs.
Unless we, as young voters, make our political presence felt by getting more involved this election season, candidates will not address the issues that matter to us.
Presidential candidates must use their campaigns to maintain their respective party’s traditional stronghold groups, such as gun-rights advocates for Republicans and labor union groups for Democrats. But campaigns must also target key voter groups whose loyalties can shift in any given election. These groups include senior citizens, who consistently display a strong presence at the polls, as well as blue-collar workers and farmers, whose votes are critical in several swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. Failure to attract these voter groups could mean the difference between holding a corner office and the Oval Office.
Such groups are coveted by politicians in a way young voters simply are not — and logically so.
One of the hallmarks of the 2008 presidential election was that young voters came out in record numbers. Though that’s true, the numbers weren’t nearly as mind-blowing as one might think — 51 percent of eligible voters ages 18 — 29 voted as opposed to 49 percent in 2004.
On the other hand, 70 percent of eligible voters ages 65 and up voted in 2008, which was actually a decrease from 2004 when 71 percent voted. It doesn’t take a genius to see why, come election season, politicians are catering to older Americans while young Americans are left scrambling for leftovers.
Here are a few of the scraps that have been thrown students’ way this campaign season. Obama has emphasized that under his administration, the maximum Pell Grant award increased by more than $800 to its current maximum of $5,500 per year. Too bad $5,500 per year is hardly enough to cover a substantial amount of the cost of attendance at a public university, much less a private one.
Aside from that, the maximum number of years a student can receive a Pell Grant was recently capped at six years. Some might think six years is more than enough time to complete a bachelor’s degree; however, many college students must take extra coursework their first few semesters because of a lack of college preparation in high school or later on to meet rigid general education requirements.
Romney has managed to one-up Obama in his inability to court college students. Among the nominee’s pieces of advice to young people: Get as much education as you can afford, shop around for loans and borrow money from your parents to start a business. Romney’s so-called advice is arrogant and out-of-touch. Though not every college student comes from a low- or middle-income background, this particular advice lacks any sense of empathy or compassion toward these large groups.
Most importantly, by advising young people to get only as much education as they can afford, Romney is further hindering social mobilization in a country where it is already lacking.
Secondly, shopping for student loans isn’t as simple as shopping for clothes. Rather than make snotty remarks, Romney should require private lenders to increase transparency so students are not signing loans they cannot clearly understand.
Clearly, young voters are not high on the presidential nominees’ priority lists, but we can change that.
Let’s go out to the polls this election — and every subsequent election — in truly record numbers. We have to start keeping up with the 65 and older crowd if we’re ever going to get any attention around here.
Jessica Garcia is a senior majoring in social science with an emphasis in economics.