Faculty, students: UK lacks enthusiasm for primaries

By Rebecca Sweeney

Ohio State University’s campus is buzzing with excitement of today’s presidential primary, as many colleges have since state primaries began tallying votes. But students and faculty at UK have not been seeing the same enthusiasm for the presidential race.

Unlike other larger states like Ohio and Texas, which both host primaries today, Kentucky is not a battleground state where candidates spend millions of dollars on campaigns, which makes it difficult to get students interested in the race, said Mark Peffley, a political science professor.

“Campaigns are emotional frenzies, and it’s hard to get worked up being a spectator sitting on the sidelines,” Peffley said.

Kentucky’s primary is not until May 20. The late date, when UK students will already be on summer break, makes it difficult to promote discussion and political involvement on campus, said Robert Kahne, president of UK College Democrats.

“To combat student apathy, I think the primary should be moved up,” said Kahne, a political science and economics junior.

Despite a lack of campus enthusiasm, this year’s race will greatly affect the future and presents two directions America can go in the Iraq war. Students should care as much as everyone else for these reasons, Kahne said.

UK’s political culture is decent, but many students do not get involved because no candidate has visited UK’s campus or made Kentucky a priority in their campaign, Kahne said.

Campaigns from both parties have visited Ohio Wesleyan University, a campus of 1,850 students, said Matt Greene, a political science and economics junior at the university and communications director for the Ohio College Democrats State Federation.

“Once leaders get together and create an atmosphere that is almost contagious, the apathetic students will get swept up in it,” Greene said. “They will see the fun that you are having and get swept up by the energy.”

The state’s primary today has made Ohio State University a recent hot spot for campaign visits, said Tobey Steinman, a computer information systems senior at OSU. A debate between Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was also held at the University of Texas at Austin campus last month.

Candidates from both parties seem more interested in the college-age voters this year than in past elections, and Steinman said what is most important is not which candidate to vote for, but getting people to vote.

The significance of their vote and what it means if they do not vote is something that Kendra Stewart, a presidential politics professor at Eastern Kentucky, said students are unaware of.

“We should all try to be thoughtful and contribute to the process,” said Stewart, who traveled with 22 students from her class to work for the Democratic Party at the South Carolina primary. “If students ever want to be taken seriously and have a voice, they have to start by voting.”

With classes on Election Day and deadlines for absentee ballots, many students do not vote, said Thomas Roberts, UK College Republicans chairman and a political science and economics senior.

“There are several issues that people like to complain about, but if you ask them if they vote, they say no,” he said.

Policies that will be decided by our next president, such as the Iraq war, civil rights, healthcare, tax reform and social security, will deeply impact the future of students, said Richard Fording, a political science professor.

“While the simple act of voting may not impact the election very much, getting involved in a more significant way can impact many more votes. Remember Florida?” Fording said, referring to the 2000 election when President George Bush won despite losing the national popular vote. “Five-hundred more votes and, arguably, the Iraq war never happens.”