College campuses are normally seen as hotspots for activism, and Temple is no exception. In the last three years, Sens. John Kerry and Barack Obama have both spoken here as part of their presidential campaigns. More recently, the Liacouras Center was considered as a possible site for last week’s Democratic Presidential debate.
But students and experts agree that this activism rarely translates into big voting gains, especially in city elections.
“College students face a disadvantage because their residences are usually not where they’re living,” Dr. Michael Hagen, head of Temple’s Institute for Public Affairs, said. “If they’re registered at all, they usually have to go back to vote.”
Data from past general elections show that students are unlikely to cast their ballots on campus – and even more unlikely to do so in a mayoral election.
Results from the 20th Ward, which includes all student housing east of Broad Street, show that relatively few students living on campus actually vote here. The ward’s ninth division, which encompasses the Peabody and 1940 residence halls along with Kardon-Atlantic Terminal, consistently ranks at the bottom as far as turnout.
In the 1999 mayoral election, just 99 people cast ballots, out of almost 400 registered. In 2003, that number jumped to 152 out of 519 registered, but that still pales in comparison to the 393 voters who came out in the 2004 Presidential election.
“College campuses are torchbearers for activism and politics,” King Dphax, a 2003 graduate in psychology, said. “It usually translates to local politics, but this election is just such a landslide.”
According to Hagen, several factors may contribute to the higher turnout in Presidential elections. The Democratic Party stranglehold on city government, along with national press and get-out-the-vote efforts in the presidential election, usually contribute to the disparity.
“Presidential elections generate a lot more attention in press and advertising on TV,” Hagen said. “It’s easy for some people to forget that there’s a mayoral election going on.”
Students agree that little attention is given to the city elections here.
“I think it’s hard in Philadelphia because of its history of voting democratic,” Geoff Ednie, a senior music education major, said. “As the media say, the primary is actually the election.”
Because of students’ relatively small impact on the mayoral election, candidates have largely ignored the campus during the general. Last month, Republican nominee Al Taubenberger spoke with students in an online forum held by Young Empowered Philadelphia, but Michael Nutter, widely favored to win today’s election, has passed on Temple both in the primary and general campaigns.
“I think more students would vote if the candidates spent more time here,” Hagen said. “But, it’s probably more efficient for candidates to spend more time with groups that are more likely to vote.”
Only Democrats Tom Knox and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah spoke with students in the run up to the May primary.
“Someone may think, as a student, that the mayor has no effect on them,” Ednie said. “But the university and city have to maintain a certain relationship.”
While it has not played a role in the Mayoral election, data from the 2004 elections suggest that in 2008, Temple’s activism will be reinvigorated. In the 47th Ward, voter turnout nearly doubled from the 2003 mayoral to the 2004 presidential elections. In 2003, 2,151 voters came out to the polls. In 2004, that number increased to 4,269.
“Candidates speak to people not only because they want them to vote, but they want them to help their campaign,” Hagen said. “Students have an abundance of energy, so they’re a terrific source for candidates to work on their campaigns.”
Like many students, Briana McCoy, a sophomore education major, plans to vote via absentee ballot in her home city of Pittsburgh, but hasn’t heard much about the city elections.
“I heard a little about it,” McCoy said. “I’m not really interested in politics, but I plan to vote in the presidential election.”
Chris Reber can be reached at