Students across the state are slowly getting involved in what experts are calling a volatile election year.
Registration numbers in Utah are creeping upward but at well below the national pace. According to the College Democrats of America Web site, only about 85 students in Utah have joined various campus clubs, but political activists on campuses statewide are trying to change that.
Ongoing projects are recruiting more registered voters on all of Utah's college and university campuses; however, nothing specifically targets registrations ahead of Utah's Super Tuesday primary election. Most registration recruitment will take place before the general elections in November.
"It's definitely an interesting year," said Marko Mijic, government relations coordinator for the Associated Students of the University of Utah. He said campaign presence on campus is increasing and creating a buzz of excitement among students.
"People are beginning to see that this is going to make a difference in their future, that they can make an impact not only in local government but in state government and the presidential race," Mijic said. Perhaps more than any other year, 2008 is one where the increasing number of student voters can make a difference, he said.
Frank Guliuzza, chairman of the political science department at Weber State University, said that although Utah has a favorite son in Mitt Romney, other candidates in the race for president have a chance at succeeding.
"The whole Hillary-Obama race has generated a lot of excitement," he said. "This is the first time in umpteen years when there hasn't been a president or a vice presidential candidate who has been on the ballot before and is now back on the ballot, so I think it's very exciting for folks."
"The nature of this race has people both a little more excited and kind of with an eye towards the television and the computer looking up things on the Internet than they might've last time when there was an incumbent ... when John Kerry had already sewn up the nomination," he said.
Southern Utah University students will be holding a mock primary in which they will gauge student interest in the presidential primary race. Their main focus will be to "get students registered to vote," said Jesse D. Holt, SUU student body president. He said students are set to raise awareness of the issues most important to them.
Up-to-the-minute updates have also helped to inspire students, who live on the edge of the information age.
U. students are holding a Super Tuesday Election Night Party at the Hinckley Caucus Room on campus, hoping to generate more interest in the issues surrounding the election and providing updates on the primary.
"Students are discussing everything more now," Mijic said. "Whether it be foreign policy or fiscal responsibility, the environment or whatever. It's really cool to see how engaged they are."
Dialogue is key in such a competitive race, Guliuzza said. National trends indicate student participation is up. In Utah, he suspects it will happen closer to convention season although a plethora of bumper stickers, posters and lapel pins he says will continue to grow on campuses throughout the state."There's definitely more of a level of partisanship," he said. "And it's more partisan as a friendly engagement than we would have had back in 2004."
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