|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, November 1, 2004
San Francisco Chronicle 10-31-04
Political renaissance on college campuses
Under crisp blue skies Saturday, a dozen Stanford University students took time out from their midterm studying, Frisbee playing and football watching to try to make a difference in the presidential election -- in Ohio.
Safely ensconced in the bubble of a fairly liberal campus in a solidly blue state, these young soldiers for John Kerry came to White Plaza armed with their cell phones and free weekend minutes to persuade the Democratic faithful in Columbus to get out to vote Tuesday in their crucial swing state.
"This is the most important election of our lifetime. Can I count on your vote on election day? ... Hello?" asked biology graduate student Jai Ranganathan as the voter on the other end of his first Ohio call hung up on him.
"If every last vote does count, maybe I can make difference here," said Ranganathan, 30. Across the country, activists and experts are seeing a surge in youth interest and activism surrounding the presidential election and some predict that as many as 20 million young voters or 2 million more than four years ago, could decide such a close election.
"Youth are going to swing this election, without a doubt," said Holly Teresi, spokeswoman for the Youth Vote Coalition, a national nonpartisan get- out-the-vote effort.
Teresi said the number of young voters, variously described as those from 18 to their mid-20s or even 30, could be among the highest since 1972, when 18- year-olds were given the vote. With the exception of 1992, youth voting has declined since then.
A recent national poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics found that 72 percent of college students "definitely" plan to vote Tuesday. At Stanford, the college Democrats say interest is running so high that their membership has surpassed Vietnam War-era levels.
Stanford Democrats' events have drawn 300 people this fall, while last year they were lucky to get 10, said President Kai Stinchcombe, who traveled to Las Vegas this weekend with 125 other Stanford students to campaign for Kerry.
"People have the feeling if they step up to the plate they could change the course of history," said Stinchcombe, 21. But the level of activism hasn't been obvious to all students.
Milton Solorzano and Drew Wahl said many students are more likely found discussing sports, dorm trips or Full Moon on the Quad -- an annual tradition in which first-year students seek smooches from seniors on the first full moon of the school year -- than politics.
"We've got more important things to worry about," said Solorzano, 20.
"Like midterms," added Wahl, 21.
But the two friends are up on the issues and plan to vote -- for Bush, a position that can spark heated arguments on a mostly liberal campus. Wahl said he doesn't hide his political preferences, but his Bush/Cheney sticker is on the inside of his closet door.
At UC Berkeley's bustling Sproul Plaza Friday, students passing out the Cal Democrats' "Smart Ass" magazine competed with those handing out the Republicans' "California Patriot." But neither was as big a draw as the glee club singers at Sather Gate or an ethnic dance performance on the Sproul Hall steps.
Senior Gina Wagner, 21, said membership in the Cal Democrats club is the most it has been, with 70 Cal students joining the Kerry bandwagon in Nevada.
But freshman Andrew Quinio said the Republican group is the biggest political organization on campus.
Quinio said he was undaunted on the liberal campus in a city where George Bush came in third behind Democrat Al Gore and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000.
"Our attitude is your vote still matters," he said, adding that the GOP group sent about 45 members to Monterey last weekend to campaign for Abel Maldonado, a Republican candidate for state Senate against Democrat Peg Pinard.
At the University of San Francisco, deep in the honeycomb of the sophomore dormitory in a room sandwiched between thickets of go-Kerry posters, lives 19-year-old Grant Stevens -- a genuine, honest-to-goodness Bush backer.
He doesn't wear it on his sleeve.
"Let's just say I get hassled all the time whenever anyone finds out how I'm voting," said Stevens, a sociology major. "But I stick to my belief system. Switching a president in wartime is not a good idea."
John Paul Manuel, a USF senior political major, is that rarest of college birds: A fence-sitter. He is registered Democrat, finds San Francisco politics so liberal he belongs to the Campus Republicans of USF -- and he still doesn't know how he'll vote Tuesday.
"I'll probably flip a coin," he said with a sigh.
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