10/14/2008 12:50 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Students and the Long Walk to the Polls

Yes, we college students as a whole may not be as interested in the upcoming presidential election as the voting population at large. But no, we actually do know what's going on. We go on, watch cable news, and visit the blogosphere. And I'm willing to bet that we may well have the most politically-informed college students in a generation, if that's saying anything.

Most students you ask will probably answer in the negative if you ask them how engaged they feel about politics. But when you talk about the candidates and the latest political events, there are plenty well-versed in bringing up concerns ranging from Sen. Obama's lack of experience to Gov. Palin's latest gaffe. It's not that we don't know what's going on. From the student who recognized George Will on television to the one who relates details she's heard about McCain's flip flops, there is evidence that we aren't nearly as ignorant as some will have you believe.

The voter registration drives on campus are looking to be some of the most ambitious yet. It's impossible to get to class without a volunteer shouting "register to vote!" with several students filling out registration forms beside them. College students are further inconvenienced by the fact that they must fill out forms for absentee ballots if they don't live at home, a hurdle certain to depress thousands of students, either unwilling to go through the hassle, or kept in the dark about the fact that their registration alone doesn't assure a ballot come November.

As for the debates: while the majority would choose to avoid them, even the politically apathetic are willing to tune in for an hour and a half of political talk. We gather in lounges, dorm rooms, and even auditoriums. For the second presidential debate, I found it odd that not only was the channel of choice be Fox News, but that this predominantly liberal campus would enthusiastically cheer for McCain over Obama, even laughing in agreement as McCain curtly called his opponent "that one." I had to check the snapshot polls after to know that most debate-watchers considered Obama the winner. The school paper the next day confirmed the suspicions: the college Republicans had chosen the auditorium for their viewing party.

The question, of course, remains: will college students turn out to vote this year, or are they going to, as they did in 2000 and 2004, "play video games and eat potato chips?" From what I'm seeing on campus, there is reason for optimism. Let us not forget, young voters doubled their turnout for the Iowa caucus (even edging out the strong senior citizen vote), tripled in New Hampshire, and quadrupled in Tennessee. Both Senator Obama and McCain have, in their own way excited interests, among students, from Obama's promises of change to McCain's maverick image. And the issues affecting this election, from the Iraq War to the economy to college loans, are more pertinent than ever. So while there is still plenty of room to play catch-up, there's no reason to suspect that we are, indeed, as ignorant about politics as we are portrayed.