EDITOR’S NOTE: This semester WTVR.com has partnered with VCU’s School of Mass Communications “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project. Students from the project reported the following story.
RICHMOND, Va. – As Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli go on the last laps in their gubernatorial campaigns, student groups on the campuses of VCU and the University of Richmond are trying to generate interest in the election on Nov. 5.
But attention to political campaigns has dropped significantly among college students since last year’s presidential election.
“Once VCU was a huge impactor of the youth movement of Barack Obama in 2012. This year it’s not going to show. I can guarantee you, it’s not going to show,” said Martha Crosby, membership chair of the College Republicans of VCU, who is also in charge of recruitment. “People do not even know there’s a governor’s race going on.”
Crosby said college students need to focus on the gubernatorial election, which will have a far greater impact on the state compared to the presidential election.
One tactic used by the College Republicans of VCU to recruit students has been to set up tables in the Student Commons and focus on policies that students are interested in.
“The newer generation just wants to see a difference in the way our government is run and the way it’s going to be in the future,” Crosby said.
Matthew Rogers, president of the Young Democrats of VCU, said that most students he speaks with are uninformed and apathetic towards gubernatorial politics.
“Last year, when it was Obama versus Romney, everybody knew about the election,” said Rogers. “Even if they weren’t informed on politics at all, they knew there was a presidential election. This year it’s more, ‘Oh, well I don’t really care about politics, I don’t really know what’s going on.”
Molly Kiniry, president of the College Republicans at the University of Richmond, said one of the main issues on campus with getting students to register to vote is the number of out-of-state students.
With out-of-state students making up most of the University of Richmond’s student body, motivating students to go through the process of registering out of state is tough.
“I think one of the issues here is that kids aren’t from Virginia,” said Kiniry, who is from Maryland herself. “We’re in kind of in a bubble here on campus and at times it’s almost easy to forget we’re in Virginia and that’s the most important thing.”
The group came up with a poster pinned around campus that reads, “You study and you sleep here, you should vote here.”
At VCU, a university known for its community engagement, enthusiasm among even the most engaged students is low.
Alexandra Gill, a political science and mass communications major at VCU, said she is only familiar with the more controversial candidates.
“I think that’s just it,” said Gill. “They’re so popular because they’re unpopular. The word controversy probably has Ken Cuccinelli’s picture beside it. Where did Terry McAuliffe come from before this year? Did anyone really know about him or his politics?”
Victoria Sancho-Bonet, also a political science student at VCU, said that she is unenthusiastic because none of the candidates are discussing issues that are important to her.
“Economic policy and education [are issues that could persuade my vote],” said Sancho-Bonet. “Social issues are important as well, but I feel like with both of these candidates you can’t really have a middle ground.”
In terms of courting the youth vote, Gill said the candidates should hone in on their talking points and focus on questions that students on college campuses are asking.
“On a college campus you’re going to find everyone who’s asking, ‘Where are my funds for education coming from?’,” said Gill. “But there’s also a huge base here who understand the women’s rights movement and the feminist movement. I feel like kids know more about those two issues than anything else.”
As the election nears, student political organizations on both campuses plan to continue to educate and encourage their students to vote and participate.
“We also are focusing on educating voters on the issues as they relate to their everyday life and getting them to commit to voting on November 5th,” said Rogers.
This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.