Oct. 5, 2008
Story by Michael Pasternak
ST LOUIS – Students from Illinois and other states where one presidential candidate holds a strong lead want to make sure they are registering to vote at their campus residences in Missouri, where they think their choice in the election will make a difference.
Benjamin Guthorn, president of the Washington University College Democrats, says many of his fellow college students who are from out of state are instead registering locally.
“I would say a majority of students are registering in Missouri if they don’t live in a battleground state,” said the junior from Baltimore. “I think it is incredibly important to vote in Missouri.”
Thursday night, hundreds of students filled Danforth University Center on the Washington University campus to cheer and boo as they watched the vice presidential debate, which was being held just hundreds of yards away in the university’s athletic complex.
“There’s no better election to vote for the first time,” said 18-year-old Washington University freshman Dan Robinson from Champaign, Ill., who wore a Barack Obama shirt and held an Obama poster as he waited for a seat at the University Center. “In Illinois, Barack Obama will win easily. That is why I am voting in Missouri. I want my vote to make a difference.”
Robinson says the only one of his friends who is not voting in Missouri is voting in Virginia, where a new Washington Post/MSNBC poll has Obama with a slight 3-point lead.
Missouri has long been a bellwether state. The winner of every presidential election over the last century, except 1956, has won Missouri. Four years ago, President George W. Bush won Missouri by 7 percentage points, or almost 200,000 votes.
A recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch/KMOV poll of 800 likely Missouri voters had Arizona Sen. John McCain leading the Illinois senator by one point, with McCain at 47 percent and Obama at 46 percent, but it was within the margin of error. The week before, a similar poll by Research 2000 had McCain up by four points.
The closeness of the presidential race has voters under 30 particularly excited about this election, said Stephanie L. Young, communications associate with Rock the Vote , a non-partisan progressive group trying to get young people involved in politics.
“We don’t care who you vote for. We just want you to vote,” Young said of the 44 million eligible voters aged 18 to 29. “We are hoping to set a habit with young voters, so they will continue to stay involved throughout their lives.”
Young says Rock the Vote has registered 1.7 million people so far for this election, with a goal of 2 million new voters. The deadline to register to vote in Missouri is Oct. 8. In Illinois, the registration date is Oct. 7.
“We don’t just register to vote,” said Young. “We vote.”
But at least one political scientist says the youth vote won’t make a difference.
“Most political scientists who study elections do not expect the youth vote to be particularly consequential, because of low turnout and because of political and issues differences among young voters that will make them supportive of both candidates, although we expect the youngest cohort to show a distinct Democratic bias,” John R. Petrocik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Missouri, said in an e-mail. “I don’t expect Missouri to depart much, if at all, from the national pattern.”
Beth Fulmer, now a University of Chicago graduate student, was a senior at Washington University four years ago when it hosted a presidential debate between President George W. Bush and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. She attended that debate after being one of the lucky few who won a student lottery.
“I was super-excited,” said Fulmer, 25. “How often are you in a room with all these dignitaries? It is something I’m going to remember.”
Originally from Indiana, Fulmer voted in Missouri while a student there. Indiana was solidly Republican last presidential election, with President Bush winning the state by 20 points. However, this year, Indiana might be in the play for the Democrats.
“I wanted my vote to matter,” said Fulmer.
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