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- Election2008 Â»
Kansas University sophomore Julia Groeblacher is paying close attention to this presidential election. After all, it's the first time the 19-year-old will be able to vote.
And she has discovered that some aspects of her native Austria have come to shape her political ideology.
"My reason for being a Democrat in the United States is very much because of the values that have been entrenched in my family because of Austria," said Groeblacher, McPherson, who became a U.S. citizen two years ago.
For instance, she said, Austria has universal health care. "Because of seeing the benefits of that, I find it extremely important."
Groeblacher, president of KU's Young Democrats, is a shining example of the youth vote that has been key to recent victories by presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in Iowa and New Hampshire, and an enthusiastic voice for those and other candidates as the country looks forward to the results of next week's Super Tuesday.
She says she follows politics closely and believes in the power of voting.
"It's much easier for a person to make a great change in this country than any other country on earth," Groeblacher said.
She credits her parents and high school civics courses in helping her develop an interest in politics. That, and a prescient prediction when she was 4 that Bill Clinton would win the 1992 election.
Shaping voters' beliefs
Mark Joslyn, an associate professor of political science at KU, said that is no surprise; most people begin to form their political identification because of their family's beliefs.
"It's socialized. When you're young, you listen to people around you," Joslyn said. "As you get older, a little bit extended from your family, you (listen) to your peers, the news media, sometimes certain candidates."
All these social factors combine into an information cocktail that help young people form their political identification. If Groeblacher's experience is any indication, personal struggles and access to information also play a role in igniting political affiliation.
"Of those types of people that participate (in politics), they're highly interested; they usually have resources to participate," Joslyn said.
He said young people who are politically active and aware tend to read a lot of news and are involved in other community activities, such as church.
But those politically passionate young people represent a relatively small segment of the population, said KU professor of political science Allan Cigler.
"In general, there's not that much involvement at the university today. There is a core of activist kind of students interested in the political parties," he said. "There's not a lot of activity right now among students."
Groeblacher, however, disagrees with that assessment - at least with regard to KU's campus.
"The experience I've had, that's completely false," she said. "What we have on campus is the Dole Institute of Politics. : It really is the politically driving force at KU. The fact that it's not on campus might make it seem like students aren't interested in politics."
A dissenting voice
Lawrence High School junior Alex Hyler found her parents espoused views were, in fact, 180 degrees from her own. The 17-year-old realized about four years ago that their Democratic ideals were not ones that she valued.
"My parents have always raised me as a Christian," she said. "They raised me with the mentality that I don't have to go to church to have faith in God."
But new friendships at South Junior High School brought Alex closer to God, leading her to disavow her liberal leanings.
"My faith was more important than their faith was on the priority list," she said. However, "my parents definitely encourage me to have my own beliefs."
As co-president of the LHS Young Republicans, Hyler tries to bring awareness to issues by staging debates, selling T-shirts and encouraging discussion among her peers. Like many of her Democratic counterparts, she said the looming issues for her and other young Republicans in this election are the war in Iraq, immigration, health care and the United States' foreign policy, especially with regard to Iran.
Inspired by candidates
Often young people find themselves inspired by a particular candidate, spurring them to action, Cigler said.
"There's a new freshness in some of these candidates," he said. "There are people who are a little disgusted with the political process and there is something about those particular candidates that (is) positive and optimistic."
Hardly a day goes by when newscasts fail to mention the enthusiasm young people have for presidential candidates such as Obama and McCain.
"In terms of context, you're looking at a phenomenon now with Obama," Joslyn said. "What happens, especially with that age group of 18 to 24, they're just moving into the electorate. It becomes popular within their age group to get involved : it becomes important to become involved in politics."
'A sense of duty'
For Lawrence native and KU senior Liz Stuewe, it's not about a candidate. Politics has always been in her blood. Activism was a regular dinner-time conversation between Stuewe and her parents.
"My biggest influence for my political and social activism is my parents. (My father) has always encouraged me to be politically active," said Stuewe, who is heavily involved in the Commission on the Status of Women, Delta Force and the Dole Institute of Politics.
She is planning to support Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in Tuesday's Democratic caucus.
"I have been on the Kids Voting Kansas state board since I was 16, and I'm still active. That really kind of grabbed my attention when I was younger and held my attention through high school and college," she said. "If I hadn't been involved in Kids Voting and if my father hadn't instilled me a sense of duty, I don't think I would have been involved in Dole."
She said she wears a bracelet, passed down from her grandmother to her mother, that acts as a constant reminder that there is always a struggle to overcome. It reads "E.R.A," a reference to the Equal Rights Amendment, a measure that has perpetually failed to be added to the Constitution since it first was introduced in 1921.
Stuewe said that anger over discrimination inspired some of her friends to become involved in feminist activism.
"For a lot of them, I think they experience some sort of discrimination or disparity. I know friends who are looking at the political climate both locally and nationally and longing for more women to be involved," Stuewe said. "I have friends who are women in the field of science and they have experienced some discrimination because of their involvement. : Discrimination has influenced them to become active."
In the end, Cigler said, a sense of idealism is necessary for young people to be engaged. Sometimes it's just not present.
"I do see a significant amount of grass-roots activity for candidates, but it's a select population that's relatively narrow," he said, noting how youth involvement bottomed out during the Reagan administration when young people felt their voices were ignored. "The last (election), there were major efforts made to increase youth voting that were pretty successful. A lot of things have made it easier to get involved at the voting level."
That's exactly the message Hyler and others are trying to tell their peers.
"The youth need to get involved, and I would encourage everyone who can vote to vote," said Hyler, who won't turn 18 until December. "They may think it doesn't matter, but it is going to be the future leader, so it does matter."