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Feature

A young adult with "Ron Paul" signs

A UMD student wears his presidential preference to the Republican polling site at Duluth's East High School.

Their votes count

UMD students joined young people by the thousands who flocked to Super Tuesday gatherings

by UMD students Mariana Osorio and Tom Gadbois, with staff writer Cheryl Reitan

February 8, 2008

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education , in some states on Super Tuesday young voters may have provided the margin of victory for the winners. University of Minnesota, Duluth students certainly did their part, packing rooms during the evening at already crowded precinct caucus sites.

Their polling choices helped Minnesota give Barack Obama a two-to-one lead over Hillary Clinton, and provided former candidate Mitt Romney a win in the GOP race.

UMD student interest in politics may cause a repeat of 2004 when the city of Duluth had the highest percentage of voters per capita than any U.S. city in the presidential election. "UMD plays a big role in getting students involved," says Jon Duesterhoeft, senior economics and mathematics major.

For the 2008 election, one-fifth (44 million) of the voting-eligible population will be made up of people 18-29 years olds. A survey by Rock the Vote, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, of 400 young people found that 77 percent indicated they are paying a "great deal" of attention to the November 2008 presidential election, a much higher rate than found in similar polling from this time in 2003.

"I am proud to be living in a time in American history where, for the first time, we have the opportunity to vote for a person other than a white male," says Tony Varela, a junior majoring in education.

The survey also discovered that 87 percent of young people reported that they plan to vote in November 2008, and 85 percent believe that their vote counts, up from 75 percent one year ago, according to data from a 2006 Sacred Heart University poll.

In general, young people have been attracted to this presidential race because of major issues, like the Iraq war and the economy, and because of the unprecedented choices the candidates offer. Also, the campaigns--the DFL especially--have turned up their efforts to attract young voters.

UMD students, like the students surveyed nationally, are also motivated by concerns about the cost of education. "Education should be important to UMD students because college has become too expensive," says Republican Greg Sanger, a senior in cell and molecular biology. "Tuition [nationwide] has gone up more than our country's inflation... Making a college education cheaper is huge."

The potential change in the way things have always been seems to be attracting students to politics this year. "I am proud to be living in a time in American history where, for the first time, we have the opportunity to vote for a person other than a white male," says Tony Varela, a junior majoring in education.

Sara Ford, a sophomore biochemistry major, is also pleased with the choices. "I really like the diversity in the election," she says.

As for Obama, his youth may have something to do with his popularity among young voters. "It's not surprising that voters under 30 are going to Obama," says Kenneth F. Warren, a professor of political science at Saint Louis University, in the Chronicle. "We think we're a melting pot, but this year it's become obvious that we tend to vote for people like ourselves. ... Young people are voting for the youngest person in the race." Many UMD students are hesitant to identify with a political party, but they are vocal about the issues, especially alternative energy. "The most important issue is funding for education and the sciences. That includes crucial funding research for alternative energy sources," says Duesterhoeft.

More than 200,000 Minnesota DFLers attended caucuses and the GOP had more than 60,000 caucus attendees. The GOP caucus-goers voted their preferences among Republican presidential candidates, but those votes have no direct affect on the selection of national convention delegates.