Carolyn Mahoney, a senior at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina, says she's been paying close attention to the 2012 presidential campaign. Mahoney, a double major in communications and political science, says that the campaign has relevance to her academic interests. But more than that, she says that this year's presidential election will have a significant impact on both her and her generation.
"The outcome of this election will change the course of politics more so than this generation has seen," Mahoney said.
She says she doesn't know if the presidential candidates are paying attention to the college vote.
"They better be," she says. "The youth vote largely decided the 2008 election."
Mahoney's right. More than 20 million young Americans ages 18-29 voted. Two-thirds of them cast their ballot for Barack Obama, a record for a presidential candidate in this age group.
Since the New Hampshire Primary on January 10, Republican candidates have been traversing the state of South Carolina. All have been to Charleston a number of times.
U.S. Congressman Ron Paul is speaking on the College of Charleston campus today. Paul's speech is sponsored by the College's "Bully Pulpit Series," which brings candidates together with students and members of the community. The series included Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who spoke at the Sottile Theatre on campus in the fall.
On January 14, Fox News sponsored a forum for GOP candidates to address undecided voters at the Sottile Theatre. Tonight, CNN sponsors a GOP debate at the North Charleston Coliseum. The South Carolina primary is Saturday.
The last week and a half have provided a lesson in politics for College of Charleston students not found in any classroom. Most of the students interviewed say they have been paying attention to the GOP presidential candidates.
Nate Lyles, 21, of Manning, South Carolina, however, said he hasn't been impressed by what he's seen or heard. "Frankly, it's like watching a junior high school screamfest . . . petty arguments too humorous to pry your eyes from," Lyles said. "It leaves voters wondering, `Is this the future of politics?' " Lyles added.
This, Lyles said, leads to cynicism and indifference, which can result in voters becoming less engaged.
Heather Gordon, 21, of Summerville, South Carolina, said she's lost interest in the campaign because of the incessant television ads and phone calls. "I'm not impressed with any of the Republican candidates thus far," Gordon said. "With all the political ads and phone calls, the candidates have become more of a nuisance than politicians you want to support and follow."
While students say they're paying attention to the presidential campaign, they don't know if the candidates are paying attention to them. Tara Loveland, 22, of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, say that only Ron Paul appears interested about capturing the youth vote.
One reason for this might be that Paul uses social media to direct his message to young voters. Organizations such as the Pew Research Center and Sociagility show that Paul uses social media more than his GOP opponents. Pew Research found that the majority of the mentions of him on Twitter were positive. The Washington Post's "@mentionmachine" found far more mentions of Paul last week than they did frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Barack Obama used social media to connect with younger voters four years ago, which had at least something to do with why he won such a high percent of young voters.
If the candidates wanted to reach out to young voters, they should be using social media. Taylor Saenz of Potomac, Maryland, says that she had seen little mention of the candidates on her Facebook or Twitter accounts.
"I think that the candidates don't want to waste time on a group of people who may or may not even vote," she said.
Students say that candidates should be paying closer attention to younger voters.
"Young minds often come with fresh, innovative ideas," Adrienne Bess, 22, of Columbia, S.C. said.
Sam Rahe, 21, of Fairfield, Connecticut, added: "My vote represents a generation of emerging adults who are graduating college and wanting a better economy."
If GOP candidates ignore college students, they risk losing their vote. But, more importantly, according to Biz Vincenti, 22, of Louisville, Kentucky, voters like her represent the future and candidates can't afford to ignore that.
"They should pay attention because, as cliché as it is, we are the future," Vincenti said. "If we don't have jobs or the ability to get an education, then we become a generation of uneducated people living off the system in piles of debt. If our generation isn't taken care of, the ones after us won't be either."
For most college students, this will be the first time they've voted in a Presidential Election. A lot of upperclassmen, however, voted for the first time in 2008.
Amanda Harrison, 22, of Tallahassee, Florida, said she didn't pay very close attention in 2008. But that isn't the case anymore. Harrison is graduating in May and understands that this year's election may have a profound impact on her as she leaves colleges and finds a job.
"I know that for many of my classmates that will graduate with me in May of 2012, a job is the most important issue on their minds," Harrison said.
Christopher Lamb is a professor of communications at the College of Charleston. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to The Huffington Post's coverage of the 2012 elections, please contact us at www.offthebus.org.
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