Why students don’t vote, and how student media can respond

My humble blog isn’t often able to claim an “exclusive.” But you, gentle readers, are the first outside of Professor Barry Hollander‘s class at the University of Georgia to get this cool data, ready-made for quick and high-impact journalism.

According to Hollander’s analysis of a Census Bureau survey, here are the top reasons college students gave for not voting in the 2008 presidential election:

  1. Too busy, 26.4 percent
  2. Out of town, 24.5 percent
  3. Registration problems, 8.3 percent
  4. (tie) Not interested and Forgot, 7.6 percent each

(Actually, I omitted “Other,” which came in at 12 percent, because it covers a multitude of possibilities.)

Though I am sorely tempted to begin with college students who would say, “I forgot there was a presidential election,” let’s take these in order:

1. Too busy. Are you regularly reminding your audience of early voting procedures? In print, online and with social media?

2. Out of town. Lots of students are registered back home, not their college residences. They need to know how to vote absentee. It’s easier than it sounds. You (of course!) have already reported on voting procedures for your state, but what about your out-of-state voters? You can refer them to longdistancevoter.org’s national directory of forms and deadlines.

3. Registration problems. It may be too late to register in many states, but some are still taking registrations. Longdistancevoter.org has a good list of registration deadlines. And it’s worth asking students if they’ve had any trouble registering.

4a. Not interested. Regular readers know I’ve suggested lots of interviews with students about who cares about the American political process and this election. With the campaign at its most intensive, now is a good time to visit that question, even for a second time. Respectfully talk with students, some of whom are intensely interested and some of whom just don’t think it matters.

Some data to help with that story: The Census Bureau says “voters 18 to 24 were the only age group to show a statistically significant increase in turnout, reaching 49 percent in 2008 compared with 47 percent in 2004.” But, as I noted a while back, there is some reason to believe young voters are less interested in 2012.

If your campus is not in a “swing state,” you might want to engage students on whether their presidential vote sends a message anyway. And what else is on the ballot that might genuinely be up for grabs?

4b. Forgot. College students were three times as likely as the general population to offer this reason for skipping the 2008 election. Yes, this is a good material for a snarky column. More to the point, maybe it’s a good reason for some sustained use of social media. Maybe a countdown?

A word about the data. Hollander tweeted about it and graciously provided his spreadsheet at my request. The background is a nice primer on how data tools can produce good stories. He took the census survey report on people who didn’t vote, broken down by race and age, “to spark discussion in my public affairs reporting class and someone asked, ‘Can’t we tell what college students answered?’  So I went hunting.”

He found that respondents also replied to a question about whether they were college students. So he pulled out the data for those respondents. The spreadsheet linked here has a tab with his analysis as well as a tab with the full Census Bureau table for broader demographics.


About adviserdavid

Student media director, Georgia Southern University

Posted on October 17, 2012, in Reporting. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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