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News and information from Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Presidential campaign heightens students' interest in politics

Dr. Mark Peterson can remember a time not long ago that the political scene was an area few of his students wanted to tread.

Even as recently as 2004 when Peterson, a political science professor at PSU, was selected to attend the Democratic National Convention as a Kansas delegate, he found little interest in politics among the young. This year’s presidential campaign, however, seems to have sparked students’ interest in politics both in and out of the classroom.

“I am seeing such a change right now with our young people,” said Peterson, who attended the Democratic caucus this week in Franklin, Kan., and witnessed the impressive numbers of students who showed up to be counted for either Senator Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. “Given everything that’s happening nationally, there’s been a hell of a lot of energy generated. My students have been discussing it a lot.”

Nationally, young voters are having an impact. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, voter turnout among people under 30 was double to triple that of 2000.

One Pitt State student reflects the heightened interest in this year’s election process.

Katie Merando, a sophomore nursing major, was selected along with 11 other Southeast Kansas residents Tuesday night to be a second district delegate. A strong Obama supporter, Merando will campaign at the convention in Topeka on April 12 for a chance to be a state delegate. If chosen to be one of the state delegates, she will attend the National Democratic Convention in September.

She may have been the youngest delegate selected at this week’s caucus, but Merando, a member of the PSU Young Democrats, says there are plenty of young voters who are taking part in the political process.

“I would say that for a lot of the people I know, it’s because we have a candidate that can give us the change we need,” she said. “It’s a chance to unify everyone. I’m very political so I get crazy at election time, but for my friends to get excited about it now, that’s amazing to me.”

Peterson, who was also selected this week as a second district delegate, says his experience at the 2004 national convention proved very useful in his professorship at the university – and something he hopes to experience again this year. Republican or Democrat, Peterson says that even if the candidate a young voter supports doesn’t win, he hopes it doesn’t disillusion them from remaining politically active.

“It is a possibility that if their candidate loses they may feel alienated and disengaged, but I hope not,” he said. “I say that as a citizen and a political scientist. I hope they remain involved even if they see that the process doesn’t always seem to reflect the will of the people.”

---Pitt State---