June 26, 2019 | 82° F

Election? What Election?: Rutgers in top 20 schools with least politically active students


According to an annual list of assorted college rankings released in early August by The Princeton Review, Rutgers took 19th place on the list, “Election? What Election?” The Princeton Review polled around 136,000 students at 380 American colleges with the question “How popular are political/activist groups on your campus?” to determine the results. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY EDWIN GANO / ASSOCIATE PHOTO EDITOR

When you think of Rutgers University, one image that might come to mind is politically active students protesting down College Avenue. But in reality, most Rutgers students may not be involved in upcoming elections and pressing issues.

In early August, The Princeton Review released its annual college rankings in 62 different categories ranging from “Best Dining Hall Food” to “Most Beautiful Campus.”

This year, Rutgers snagged the 19th spot on the list “Election? What Election?”

About 136,000 students at 380 colleges across the United States were asked the survey question “How popular are political/activist groups on your campus?” said Jeanne Krier, publicist for The Princeton Review Books and Rankings.

Rutgers students turned out to be more politically apathetic than most other college student bodies, according to the results.

Elizabeth Matto, director of the Youth Political Participation Program at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, said the University’s ranking is surprising for a number of reasons — one being the numerous on-campus political protests. Demonstrations such as the Condoleezza Rice protests two years ago garnered national attention for the school.

“(The protests at Rutgers) are great counter-examples to this list and have even garnered national attention,” Matto said. “The goal is to take passion and activism and link it to traditional methods of political participation. There is no one single effective method of political participation, it takes a combination of methods used over a sustained period of time.”

But there is a clear difference between protesting and participating in campaigns, said Viktor Krapivin, a member of the Rutgers Democrats. The School of Arts and Sciences sophomore volunteered on Sen. Cory Booker's campaign in 2013 and said joining campaigns and clubs is the best way to create change for Rutgers students. 

"When you join a campaign, you're making a commitment," he said. "With a protest, you have a chance to make change. But with a campaign, you have a definite commitment and are much more likely to create lasting change."

Despite passion shown in campus protests, difficulty with voter registration on campus and in the State of New Jersey may discourage political involvement.

“Voter registration is challenging on a campus like Rutgers,” Matto said. “If students live on Cook campus one year, then move to Busch campus the next year, they need to remember to update their registration form.”

New Jersey’s antiquated voter registration laws on early in-person voting and same-day registration may also discourage students at Rutgers from voting.

According to a recent Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, 67 percent of New Jersey residents are in favor of increasing early in-person voting and 59 percent support an online voter registration system.

“The actual registration process (in New Jersey) is a challenge for all young adults and a particular challenge on Rutgers campus,” Matto said.

New Jersey ranks among the bottom 10 states in voter turnout, but the State Senate recently passed a bill called the Democracy Act that includes voter-friendly registration provisions. The bill currently awaits Gov. Chris Christie’s signature. 

Overall, studies and polls show that all millennials are not showing up to the voting booths in the same numbers that older generations do.

Millennials are less likely to attach themselves to any institutions, whether it is political, religious or corporate. This distrust in all levels of the government may be affecting their voter turnout.

"Lack of trust could cause millennials to shut down and not want anything to do with the voting process," Matto said. "But by the same token, there is research that shows it is lack of trust, cynicism and suspicion that actually encourages political participation. When you feel as if government isn't responsive to you and you don't trust their actions, that might be just the thing that spurs you into political action."

Avalon Zoppo

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