This election was supposed to be different. We were going to change the world with our votes. We were going to buck the trend of the general decline in participation among voters under 30. College students pledged that in this election, they were going to become informed on the issues and make smart decisions in voting. But what happens after college students vote?
I have witnessed two unbelievable signs of apathy on the part of college students, both before and after voting. The first came on Election Day. At no point during the day did the televisions in Pippin Commons have any information about voting. Even during dinner hours, when polls were closing and after exit polls had proven to be worthless, the TVs remained glued to pop culture. After you vote, shouldn’t you care who wins? Even a little bit? It disgusted me that college students claimed to have such a strong desire to express themselves, but didn’t care enough to find out what effect it had on the world around them. Members of voting coalitions came into lecture halls to register voters, and they did just that. More young people registered in this election than during any in recent memory and, for the first time since 1992, the number of young voters rose above the number of voters in that category from the previous year.
The second sign of apathy came on Inauguration Day, one of the most historically relevant days in the United States. This is a day that has remained intact since George Washington was sworn in, and is a day of great importance in setting the course of the next four years in our country. It is on this day that the president sets forth his goals for the future and his term as president really begins. When I went to breakfast on the morning of Jan. 20, I expected to see the Inaugural Address on one of the many television screens in Pippin, seeing as how it was on almost every broadcast station, as well as every cable news station. But MTV2 was playing on the TVs. I asked the man sitting at the entrance if he could put on the Inaugural Address. He looked back at me blankly, as though he didn’t know what I was talking about. He told me that he could not abandon his post and therefore he could not change the channel. No other student asked for someone to change the channel. Apparently, none of them cared; they were too enamored with Eminem and Destiny’s Child. As I left, the man who told me he couldn’t change the channel was nowhere to be found, not even at his post.
We brought this upon ourselves. We put too much emphasis on voting and not enough on having faith in the American system of government. I am well aware that President Bush is not the candidate most college students wanted to win the election, but it shouldn’t matter. If John Kerry had been elected, I would have been just as eager to see the Inaugural Address. I hope that it doesn’t take a love of politics to care who wins an election, nor a party affiliation to watch the Inaugural Address. I was ecstatic to read that 4.6 million more 18- to 29-year-olds voted than in 2000. But I wish that half of those 4.6 million would care about the American government after the election. It is one thing to vote, but another to truly formulate an opinion. Without following what happens after an election, do you really care about the election? Have college students lost all interest in government since their guy lost? If college students just gave voting the ‘good old college try’ only to be done with it now, the future of America is in trouble. Political participation is necessary for students to truly have faith in the government of the United States of America, regardless of who is in the White House and who is in the Senate. College students want to shed the shroud of apathy that the nation as a whole puts around them. This is definitely not the way to do it.
Alex Chazen is a first-year political science major.