Despite the Post-Election Calm, Students Still Engaged in Politics


Since the beginning of election season last year, Americans had been atwitter in anticipation of the transition of power in the White House. There seemed to be an increase in people, particularly college students, watching and reading the news, and political discussion was inevitable in almost every conversational setting. The excitement rose like lava inside of a volcano all the way up to President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Now that the national excitement has finally erupted, have students really become more informed and maintained their interest in politics?

At Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), politics were a daily topic of discussion during the final months leading into the election. The need to be armed with political arguments and factual information was not uncommon or difficult among FCLC students.

“While I do not think the Lincoln Center campus is generally a very ‘politically active campus,’ you have to try to not have an opinion about something,” said Tommy Vorsteg, FCLC ’10.

Whether it was through their classes, their friends or on their own, students were keeping up with the campaigns. They were part of an unprecedented movement of participation in the national election. According to, 120 million Americans voted, which is the largest voter turnout in U.S. history. Voters ages 18-29 increased by 52 percent since 2004, according to

While most students said that they have been reading and watching the news more often than ever before, some felt that most other students they conversed with were not really informed about the issues. Now that the thrill of the election has subsided, some students are realizing that the excitement of the election and the amount of viable political knowledge other students amassed did not correlate.

“Political discussion increased, along with excitement; unfortunately actual knowledge or understanding did not,” said Andrew Padilla, FCLC ’11.

Ryan Murphy, FCLC ’11, said, “It just bothers me that in an information age where you can get news anywhere, we still, as a populous, get sucked into stupid rumor blogs and fall into ignorance levels that are staggering for college students.”

Other FCLC students commented that their peers were reading more and engaging in more political conversations, but that it was difficult to have these dialogues because many people were using unreliable information to support their arguments.

“Many people read a small, biased article on on their way to checking their e-mail, and they believe that they have received very reliable information,” said Sonya Burlan, FCLC ’11.

“The frequency of comments made by people such as ‘Obama is a socialist’ and ‘McCain is Bush’ with little to nothing to back them became annoying,” Padilla said.

FCLC students said that they use a variety of sources to obtain their news. Among the most popular are CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, Google Alerts and Most said they use the Internet to access up-to-date information about what is going on in the political realm.

In a survey of 62 FCLC undergraduates, 63 percent claimed that their main source of news was the Internet. Among other media, 19 percent preferred to access their news via television and 13 percent favored newspapers.

“When you believe in something, you will naturally give preference to articles, editorials, policies that reinforce what you deeply value,” said Dave de la Fuente, FCLC ’10. “So, there is a great temptation to take the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal as canon.”

However, Chris Toulouse, assistant professor of political science at FCLC, finds that despite the lingering presence of biased media, there is a rising population of students who truly are becoming more informed.

“Students today are a lot more informed and interested in the world around them than they were 10 years ago at the tail end of the dotcom boom,” Toulouse said. “They are much more serious about their futures.”

Survey data supports that students are indeed becoming more informed. Sixty-two FCLC students were given a five-question multiple choice quiz on current events. When asked whom Obama appointed as his secretary of state, 97 percent of the students surveyed correctly answered Hillary Clinton. Ninety percent of those students also knew that Governor Rod R. Blagojevich was recently arrested on the charges of conspiracy and soliciting bribes to sell Obama’s senate seat. More than half of these students answered all of the survey questions correctly, and more than two-thirds of the students said they follow the news “fairly often” or “very often.”

Now that the fervor of the election has simmered down, students are examining ways they could improve the quality of their political discussions so that they can analyze rather than criticize. Some FCLC students even offered some ideas to encourage diplomatic debate rather than a shouting match. Some students find that simply keeping an open mind to different political opinions will help anyone willing to engage in political conversation.

“Just because you might believe someone to be ignorant, it does not mean that you cannot learn from them,” Padilla said.

“There are some people in the student lounge whom I can talk with, students with different political affiliations. I’ve really been able to learn from them,” said Rob Wolf, FCLC ’10.

“The best thing to do is to read what the other side thinks about an issue. That’s the key to being informed,” said De la Fuente.