For most in high school, politics is an ugly word. It often conjures up images of serious, middle aged men in dark suits talking about who knows what. Politics and even current news are often overlooked, but with the upcoming election, even high school students are following the polls.
Students at Santa Barbara High are slowly showing a growing awareness of politics. Besides the Government class required of all seniors, many are getting involved with local campaigns or are expressing their choice independently. On the day of the primary itself, several students proudly sported Obama ‘08 shirts and buttons, as well as plenty of bumper stickers. The day after, checking the polls and discussing Hillary Clinton’s California victory and the Democratic super delegate vote carried from the classroom to the halls. The general sentiment is that if high school seniors can vote, they will.
Senior Cynthia Chavez-Gradilla is wavering between Clinton and Obama for the general election. “Before I took [political science class], I didn’t know anything about politics,” she says, but has since been researching candidates and reading news headlines online. However, she does not currently follow politics beyond the presidential election. Chavez feels that since she can’t directly contribute to issues like the economy, for example, researching related topics will not make much of a difference.
The optimism of the Illinois senator carries over to many youth, many of whom have lost their faith in the national government and are ready for a change. On the other hand, underclassmen and seniors not eligible to vote report showing little interest in politics. Senior Teresa Payne reported not following the news because “politics is really a vague term to me.” She agrees that being aware of government actions is important because the actions at the national level “definitely have an impact,” but the vast amount of information available makes it difficult to stay on track. She agrees that if she could vote in the general election, she would pay more attention to the news.
C-SPAN asked students to follow the political process when the C-SPAN Campaign 2008 tour bus arrived at Santa Barbara Junior High and Santa Barbara High last Thursday. Seated on a comfortable couch inside the bus, students watched short video clips of C-SPAN’s work. The presenter spoke about the network’s goal to provide non-partisan coverage of the House and Senate, non-biased because it was completely funded by the cable industry. Students left the bus with C-SPAN memorabilia and copies of the Constitution.
The percentage of youth ages 18-24 voting has constantly increased since 1993, according to research by the political research group CIRCLE. The percentage of Californians ages 18-29 participating in the primary elections increased from 13 percent in 2000 to approximately 17 percent this year. Furthermore, youth voting for the Democratic party was nearly three times the number of Republicans, with Democratic states (except Florida) showing Obama in the lead.
At Santa Barbara High, political fervor is small, but growing. It remains to be seen if the classic image of politics will change in the minds of our youth.