What do Duke, the College of the Ozarks and the University of Scranton have in common? They are all listed in the Huffington Post’s list of the most politically apathetic colleges—at the top of that list, we may add. Though the survey’s research methods are questionable at best, this ranking is by no means unreasonable. Election participation has never been one of Duke’s strong suits; in 2008, when 51 percent of youth voters cast ballots nationwide, only 36 percent of students living on campus voted.
With the exception of a small cohort of dedicated students, political participation on campus seems to have remained relatively flat since ‘08; often times, voter activism doesn’t seem to expand beyond a changed Facebook status or a laptop bumper sticker. But some signs indicate that the story is a different one: turnout at the on-campus, one-stop early voting site for the May 8 primary seems to have been stronger than ever; campus has recently been inundated with political leaders representing all sides of the spectrum, ranging from Jon Huntsman to Gary Johnson to Howard Dean; and the regional proximity of the Democratic National Convention at least increased students’ desires to attend, even if those hopes were overridden by poor weather. Most importantly, students have played a central role in this recent scale-up of political activism; Duke Student Government leaders were behind the call to establish the voting station on campus in the Spring, and, more recently, students participated in an American Grand Strategy election debate.
At a time when the importance of the “youth vote” seems to be slipping—recent polls have predicted that fewer younger voters will cast ballots, and Obama has lost a significant chunk of the margin he maintained four years ago—it’s possible that Duke students have regained their political voice. And next week will likely be the ultimate metric of whether or not the political tone on campus has shifted in the past four years.
The stories in this Election Issue cover a broad spectrum of topics, mostly relating in some shape or form to the decisive vote many of us will be casting for the very first time on Tuesday. From a piece on a North Carolina political committee that advocates for pro-choice Democratic women running for office to a piece on how health care reform is affecting medical students and leaders of the Duke hospital system to a personal essay on the meaning of the American Dream and its embodiment in our two presidential candidates, we hope these stories shed light on election-related topics that seemed to have escaped major news outlets while providing some last-minute perspective in the days leading up to the election.