FAU Students = Apathetic Voters

With the 2006 midterm elections less than a week away, student political activist groups like FAU’s College Republicans have been roaming the Boca campus trying to get students excited about Nov. 7 when they’ll get the chance to vote for members of the U.S. Congress, Florida’s next governor and other local government officials.

But these groups haven’t had much luck. Even the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office, which held a vote drive at FAU about a month ago, had trouble getting students to stop and register to vote.

So why the apathy?

FAU political science professor Robert Watson, Ph.D., says the trend is nothing new, but he adds that FAU students may be some of the worst offenders. The author of dozens of articles on the topic and a frequent political pundit on local and national news media outlets like CNN, Watson gives his take on everything from student apathy and absentee ballots to the Foley scandal:

UP: Students are usually apathetic when it comes to voting, but do you think it is worse at FAU?

Watson: I do, but I think it is more of a South Florida thing. Like my students in Hawaii used to say, “No matter how bad it is, it’s always a nice day outside.”

I think part of it is that Florida is so physically removed from Washington. It’s a beach place, a vacation place…I also think we as a school don’t do a lot politically for the students.

UP: Are the political science students more politically active?

Watson: Sure the political science majors are less apathetic because they spend all their time learning about this stuff. Still, I bet about half of them won’t vote in the election.

UP: Do you think the fact that it is a midterm election and not a presidential election has something to do with it?

Watson: Absolutely. Historically, there is lower turnout for midterm elections. I think we had about a 15 percent turn out at the primary in Palm Beach County.

UP: So why don’t students vote?

Watson: …I think the problem is they think their vote doesn’t make a difference. I don’t think this generation is less savvy. Actually, I bet every student on this campus is far less racist, sexist, homophobic and more environmentally minded than my generation.

…The problem is they fail to see the connection between those (the policy problems they dislike, like the rising price of gas) and casting the vote. Hitler won by one vote. NAFTA became law by one vote when Al Gore had to cast the tie-breaking vote. President Bush won by 537 votes in Florida. So it’s ridiculous to say that one vote doesn’t matter. It does.

UP: There has been a big push this election year to vote using absentee ballots. Do you recommend them?

Watson: Yes, students should vote absentee. After the 2000 elections we realized there were 2,000 things wrong…The great thing is you can put it in the mail right along with your phone bill. You can look on the Internet and research the candidates and see what they stand for while you are filling it out. It is a lot easier.

UP: Do you think that the Foley scandal will affect the election? Do student voters care?

Watson: Yes…but not how people expect it to. I think it will suppress voting turnout. People are sickened by it. It won’t affect people who love to vote, but for those who don’t really like to vote it will be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I think people are sick of politics.