Merrimack, N.H. — Time magazine called 2008 “The Year of the Youth Vote” and state voter registration organizations are predicting record voter turnout for the November elections.
Part of this interest is undoubtedly because it’s the first presidential Election Day without an incumbent president or vice president on the ticket since 1952, when Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower beat Adlai Stevenson. And, of course, it’s the first ever with both a black man and a woman on opposing slates.
Democrat Barack Obama’s campaign is often credited with energizing young voters, which would add to voter totals, but students on some Catholic campuses (like those in this week’s special guide, Section C) are varied in their political interests.
At Thomas More College in Merrimack, N.H., the administration is actively promoting political advocacy by its students.
“We try to plug students into the political world,” said Charlie McKinney of the Thomas More College development office. “We have a lot of students take political internships, and we hosted an event that was sponsored by National Review magazine in January. We had over 400 people come to that.”
That is a good number, considering that Thomas More College is a school with a student enrollment of only 100.
Another Catholic, although much bigger, college is Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla. Ave Maria’s approach to political activism, however, is different from that of Thomas More College.
“We have shied away from promoting organized politics,” said Deacon Forrest Wallace, director of marketing at Ave Maria. “There’s no question that we have a great deal of activity on the pro-life front. Most of our activity around here is focused on the fundamental issue of life, and not the political aspects of it.”
There are no partisan clubs on campus, he said.
Neither are there any on the campus of Thomas Aquinas College, but that is not to say there is no political activism at the Santa Paula, Calif., institution. The school is so predominantly pro-life, according to Anne Forsyth, director of college relations, that two-thirds of its student body drives up to San Francisco every year to march in the Walk for Life West Coast. That pilgrimage and other pro-life activities are organized by students alone.
“Our campus is not political by nature,” Forsyth said, “but activist students protest each weekend at an abortion clinic in nearby Ventura and, in fact, were instrumental in closing one down not long ago.”
But the student activism is certainly not exclusively leaning toward pro-life candidate John McCain. On The Huffington Post, a left-leaning website, a blogger claiming to be a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, wrote that Obama is the “best candidate for president of the United States.”
The blogger, Kari Lundgren, said she saw great social issues being ignored by pro-life advocates in their zeal for their cause.
“Would overturning Roe v. Wade really be enough to solve the poverty, under-education, and chronic unemployment rampant in the town [Steubenville] and the world?” Lundgren wrote. “At last, I realized that to be a good Catholic had nothing to do with being a good Republican, and that in fact there is a proud tradition of a Catholic Left.”
A student leader at Thomas Aquinas would be surprised to hear anyone on her campus agreeing with Lundgren, however. Laura Billeci, a senior, said that all social problems seem to eventually boil down to respect-for-life issues.
“I looked around and asked around, trying to find an Obama supporter, but I couldn’t find anybody,” Billeci said. “There are many issues on the board, obviously, but around here, the pro-life one being so fundamental that John McCain and Palin make more sense to us.”
She said that the choice of Gov. Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate made a major difference on campus. “People were really excited,” she noted. “Some said they almost wished they could change places on the Republican ticket.”
Billeci also said that Thomas Aquinas students are convinced of their moral obligation to vote and expect to do so.
The youth (18 – 29) vote has never exceeded 16% of the national total, but this election could be different, according to some pundits. Either way, college students will have a considerable impact on the outcome. And some of them will be Catholics.
Paul Barra is based in
Reidville, South Carolina.