Youth vote may be pivotal in election

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

On the UC Davis campus, election fever is in full swing.

Take Amber Boydstun, a political science professor who co-developed a smartphone app that allows students to react in real time during a presidential debate.

"We wanted to know whether candidates' debate strategies worked," Boydstun said.

On Wednesday night, 100 students gathered at the UC Davis School of Law to watch the presidential debate, but they also had a chance to participate by tapping "agree" or "disagree" when the candidates spoke.

"I've been abusing it. I click five times a minute," said law student Razmig Khayalian, 22.

Researchers believe the app could eventually be used on a larger scale, to gauge public reaction at events such as the Super Bowl.

The group of UC Davis students was part of a national study of 4,000 students at six universities – with 56 percent identifying as Democrats and 27 percent as Republicans – reacting to the debate in real time. Fifty-two percent of the students said they believed Romney won the debate.

"This is interesting because it suggests people's evaluation of debate performance is separate from whether they agree with the candidate," said political science researcher Matthew Pietryka.

The youth vote may be pivotal to swaying the election outcome, said Mindy Romero, director at the UC Davis California Civic Engagement Project.

The number of registered young voters has been on the rise, with a 25 percent increase over the past eight years, according to a study by the project.

Statewide, 50 percent of eligible young adults between 18 and 24 years old are registered to vote, compared with 77 percent for the general electorate. Sacramento County's voter registration rate for youth is the highest in California at 54 percent.

"The youth vote has huge untapped potential," Romero said.

At the UC Davis student government, 20-year-old senator Bradley Bottoms described the election as "very critical" for University of California students.

This year, the student association launched a voter registration drive with California Public Interest Research Group to highlight the importance of the election. Donna Farvard, a junior studying neurobiology, is coordinating the voter registration campaign.

Politics is something that many students don't necessarily pay attention to, she said, and that's what she hopes to change.

"Voting is how we become active members of our society," Farvard said. "We just want to get our voices heard."

The campaign has minted 4,500 new student voters so far. The goal is to get 8,000 students registered by Oct. 22 – the deadline for registering to vote in the Nov. 6 general election.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Richard Chang

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