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OU Students Outpace National Average in Voter Turnout

David Dulio, Professor and Chair for the Department of Political Science at Oakland University

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Arguably, the key component to a healthy democracy is citizen participation. For many, the most familiar and available form of political participation is voting on Election Day. In the 2016 presidential election, using the traditional method of calculation, voter turnout in the U.S. was 54.7 percent. That is down slightly from 2008 and 2012, but up from most elections between 1976 and 2000.

Whether 55 percent voter turnout is healthy is a question for another day (or a discussion for one of many great Political Science courses offered every term). Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are notorious for not showing up at the polls. Indeed, in 2016 estimates are that only 50 percent voted in the presidential election.

Students at Oakland University, however, over-perform their age group. What is more, OU students voted at a higher rate than students across the nation. A new study by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) through the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University places OU student voter turnout rate at nearly 57 percent.

This is compared to only 50.4 percent across the more than 1,000 colleges and universities in NSLVE’s study. So, not only did OU students out-perform other student populations, they voted at a higher rate than the entire nation.

This is excellent news for OU’s campus. It shows – compared to other campuses and the nation – that the student population is relatively engaged in this critical part of our civic and democratic society. But, without the context of the comparison groups, this is really nothing to brag about. We can do better as a campus and a community in terms of engaging in our democracy.

One factor that gets in the way of many Americans casting a ballot is that they are not registered to vote. The same NSLVE study shows that only about 70 percent of OU students are registered to vote (down from nearly 74 percent in 2012).

The impact of not being registered to vote is seen in the turnout data when we only consider those who are registered. Nearly 81 percent of OU students who are registered to vote did so in 2016. This is more than 10 percent higher than the national average according to NSLVE.

In short, once they are registered, OU students turn out to vote on Election Day in large numbers. The problem appears to be that not enough are registered.

I am happy to report, however, that an effort is underway to try and get more students registered to vote. September is National Voter Registration Month and Sept. 26 is National Voter Registration Day. On the 26th, in a great demonstration that civic engagement can be a nonpartisan effort, a coalition of student groups including Oakland University Student Congress, the College Republicans, the College Democrats, the John Quincy Adams Society and others will have voter registration materials available at tables between North Foundation and South Foundation Halls.

This effort is also supported by OU’s administrative leaders. We all want to enhance civic engagement on campus and in our surrounding communities and to do it in a way that demonstrates it can be done in a collaborative and constructive way free of the rancor that we often see in today’s politics.

So on Sept. 26, if you are not registered to vote, please stop by the registration tables and get on the voter rolls. Chances are, if you do, you will show up to vote in the next election.

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Oakland University's independent student newspaper.