COLLEGE EDITORS ROUNDTABLE
Click here to read the first question and the panel's answers
Related Online Resources
The NewsHour gets a preview of the election from its own panel of college students .
Browse the NewsHour's regular election coverage.
"Debate Night" debate between Republican and Democratic House and Senate leaders.
Generation X has been analyzed and type-cast as cynical and apathetic. But today's college students are a diverse group that defies categorization. Politically, college students vary widely in their levels of involvement and party affiliation. For example, students at Reed College in Portland, Oregon are gathering behind Ralph Nader, the Green Party's presidential candidate, who is receiving little play beyond the West Coast. At Princeton University, interest is low and voter registration drives are having a hard time gathering applicants, while on the William and Mary campus in Virginia, students packed the house for a recent debate between two candidates for Senate.
Americans aged 18 to 22-years-old stand to inherit a country already fraught with debt and weighed down by unmanagable federal programs such as Medicare and Social Security. With the rising cost of tuition, graduates face record levels of debt and a daunting job market where the promise of automatic employment is not passed out with the diplomas on graduation day. Is this election a time to address these issues? Do young Americans believe the democratic process is alive and well? If so, why are they the group least likely to vote?
The Online NewsHour's panel of five college newspaper editors answered your questions about voter apathy, Republicans and Libertarians on campus, Generation X's attitude toward charitable and civic service, and the big stories on college campuses. The idea was to gain an understanding of the way November's elections are playing on campus, and thereby glimpse the future of the United States. Our panel consists of Beth Berselli of Stanford's The Stanford Daily, Jill Flaxman of Princeton's The Daily Princetonian, Samantha Levine of William and Mary's The Flat Hat, Francisco Toro of Reed College's The Quest, and Mark Wegner of the University of Wisconsin's The Daily Cardinal.
Click on the following questions to read the panel's response:
- Do today's college students have the patience or the motivation to read about the candidates or the issues and to stay informed.?
- Are Republicans on campus afraid to identify themselves for fear of being abused?
- Are young people espousing libertarian ideas?
- Is the idea of civic service popular on today's college campuses?
- Has the campaign been the major story in college papers? If not, what has been?
A question from Rob Sherrill of Dawson, PA
Generation X is often portrayed as looking at politics and related issues in a superficial manner because they don't have the patience or the motivation to read about the candidates or the issues and to stay informed. Since all of you are newspaper editors, you probably are the exception to this stereotype. Is there truly an aversion to really digging into the candidates and the issues of our time in general among Generation Xers in your experience, or is this happily just a stereotype? Be honest!
Our panel of editors responds:
Beth Berselli, The Stanford Daily:
While it's hard to generalize for an entire generation, I would say that this stereotype is false. Sure, some Gen Xers couldn't care less about politics, but the Majority of young people are genuinely concerned about issues like the environment, education and the economy and are frustrated that politicians aren't addressing those issues. Young people, particularly students, are tired of being written off as apathetic slackers. Many students think that this election will be different; 18-to-24-year-olds will flock to the polls in record numbers and will prove to politicians that they're a valid constituency whose demands must be met.
Jill Flaxman, The Daily Princetonian:
I think a lot of members of my generation find that the candidates really don't speak to issues that affect us, and as a result, they tend to tune out during campaign season. I don't, however, think this is a problem that is confined merely to "Generation X," which is such an amorphous blob that it is difficult to assign any viable stereotypes to it. Voters under the age of 30 get a lot of flak because of the so-called MTV influence, which supposedly has robbed us of any kind of attention span to turn to issues of importance. I think this idea is a fallacy, as MTV itself seems to attest by assigning such importance to the election with its Choose or Lose campaign.
In short, I would say that Generation X may be uninterested in the election as a result of some of the focus issues -- it's hard to get jazzed about things like Social Security if you know they will never benefit you -- but definitely neither disinterested nor disenfranchised. I think that on the whole, we are much more tuned in than most people think.
Samantha Levine, William and Mary's The Flat Hat:
The generation X stereotype of the apathetic moocher simply along for the ride, enjoying useless pastimes like hanging out and groaning is, at best, a farce.
It is not some sort of "generational problem" that may dissuade some college students from "digging into the candidates and the issues of our time." I have been able to collect varied opinions on why some do not participate in the electoral process and how those who do feel about 20- somethings fitting into politics today.
Many students feel disconnected and distant from the issues taking top billing in this presidential election. Some say topics including welfare, foreign policy and taxes do not really affect their lives and seem, dare I say it, unimportant to them right now.
Back a couple of decades ago, when fear of the draft and war policies were the news of the day, younger people were directly affected by the legislation developed at the federal level. Today, many students are released from these types of worries and may believe that conflicts over issues like the deficit and other economic battles are faraway problems.
Probably more compelling, however, is the feeling among many students that policy making today is merely a playground for politicians to stab each other in the back while drowning the public in pointless rhetoric. That young people do not have much faith in our political leaders is not a generation X phenomenon -- remember Watergate?
The word "aversion" connotes a conscious effort to avoid political activity among young people. I would have to wholeheartedly disagree with this characterization. To be sure, there are students whose least favorite topic of conversation is politics -- individuals who are simply not interested in government. On the other side of the coin, there is a majority of young people who are dismayed and concerned over the indifference of their peers.
I can honestly say that, of the people I have encountered, there is a vast pool of young, interested and dynamic students who have sunk their teeth into the 1996 elections and really formed articulate opinions about the candidates and issues.
Unfortunately, there is an image perpetuated about our generation, and it has become entrenched in the minds of many, that "generation X" is basically a deadbeat, brain dead crowd. Why this began, I don't know. What I do know is that people my age are thinking, they are interpreting and they are reacting to the words and images surrounding these campaigns. Newspaper editors are not the only ones who may really dig into politics. Try the girl who sits next to me in government and this guy I know who I always see at the cafeteria. They know a lot, too.
Francisco Toro, Reed College's The Quest:
Well, with the proliferation of state and local races in Oregon, plus 26 ballot innitiatives (!) keeping up with the elections can be a bit daunting. I find that many upperclass students are fairly well informed on the most important races -- the ballot innitiative to raise the Oregon Minimum Wage to $6.50/hr, the U.S. senate race, and the innitiative to censor pornography. Unfortunately, being a well informed voter in this state requires a time commitment that most students just aren't willing to put in.
Mark Wegner, University of Wisconsin's The Daily Cardinal:
To a point, I think the notion of a Generation X is a myth. The perceived lack of motivation or patience doesn't match what I have seen on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Particularly since the 1960s, Wisconsin has had a reputation for political activism, rivaled by few other campuses. By 1996, the political environment has evolved dramatically. No longer do students dodge canisters of tear gas or face a line of riot police on their way to class.
Participation now exists at the Madison campus in a much more divided and unfocused form, usually within small groups. In the last year, for example, the number of registered student organizations on campus jumped from 500 groups to more than 600. Students today also tend to be too preoccupied with future employment opportunities, leaving little time for purely political activity.
Many students have a very good idea of why they have come to the university and tend to stay only as long as it takes to graduate with the specific degree they came here to earn.
Today, no single issue or cause exists that is large enough to capture the attention or passion of university students at a level comparable to the 1960s Vietnam War era protests or Civil Rights movement. To describe Generation X as uninterested is a mistake, but the failure to define broad political thought is a worrisome aspect of today's campus political culture.
Click on the following questions to read the panel's response: