Professor Chris Karpowitz is an assistant professor of political science and the associate director of the Center for Study of Elections and Democracy. He has been teaching at BYU since August 2006.
Tell me about the Center for Study of Elections and Democracy, and how do you incorporate BYU students?
The Center for Study of Elections and Democracy is interested in the practice of democracy, mostly in the United States but sometimes in other countries as well. We’re interested especially in public opinion and political participation. We do a lot of surveys of public opinion in Utah and nationally, we conduct an exit poll here in Utah—the Utah Colleges Exit Poll. We do a variety of other things that are designed to understand how people think about and practice democracy in the United States.
We take the volunteers from all over to help ask questions of voters on Election Day and that helps us to not only make prediction on who won but also gives us information on other data about the attitudes and beliefs of voters.
It’s so easy for out-of-state students to not care about politics in Utah. How can those students be involved in Utah politics, or should they be?
One, you can still be involved back home. You can vote absentee. We’ve had students here in Utah who have participated in or volunteered with other campaigns in other states while they were students here. I think the most important thing is a desire to make a difference. You’d be surprised on how easy it is to be involved in a variety of ways.
There are all sorts of campaigns that are really interested in having students involved in some way. And, BYU offers really terrific internship opportunities, whether through Washington Seminar or you can go back to D.C. and be involved with a representative who’s from your home state. Even if you feel like, ‘well Utah politics isn’t for me,’ I would say if you’re living here as a student, local politics still affect you. There’s a reason to be interested. But, even if you’re not interested at a local angle, there are still a lot of opportunities in the presidential election year to get involved nationally.
Why is it important that BYU students turn out to vote?
Obviously, this is going to be an exciting time for BYU students and there are BYU students who will support both candidates. It’s an exciting time given that one of the candidates is the first LDS candidate ever to be nominated by a major political party, whether or not you support that candidate, this is a meaningful and interesting election. I don’t want to be seen as saying LDS students will support one candidate over another, because that’s definitely not true. BYU students will vote for democratic, republican and other parties. But, I hope the fact that we have an LDS nominee at least raises the level of interest a little higher.
Perhaps the fact that there’s an LDS candidate can raise interest in the electorate and especially BYU students, regardless of the candidate they ultimately choose.
What are some aspects that college-aged students should be focusing on in this election?
The first and most important thing is to be part of the process. The more you’re part of the process, the more likely it is that politicians will actually listen to what young people have to say. If you care about things like school loans or maybe health care is a big issue for you, or maybe you really care about tax policy—it’s important to make your feelings known, and the best way to do that is to participate in the process, and at the minimum vote! I think our system is better when the interest of all age groups is well represented.
The concerns and the interests of young people will not be listened to or attended to by politicians unless young people are part of the process. They were really important in 2008, and they voted overwhelmingly for one candidate. So, it will be interesting to see what will happen in 2012 and whether the momentum in 2008 continues in 2012.
Have you been contacted by outside reporters?
We have been contacted by reporters all over the world. In just the last few weeks, political science faculty have met reporters from Holland, Denmark, Germany, Britain, Canada, Australia, Brazil and the United States, among others. There’s a great deal of interest in BYU — what is this institution, what are the values of BYU and of the LDS Church, and how do those values translate into the political realm?
I think the values of the LDS church, as the Church itself says, encompass a wide variety of political parties. The Church’s statement says principles consistent with the gospel can be found in a wide variety of political parties. Whatever the political party of the student is, I hope that this attention and an increase focus on us causes us to have more conversations with each other and what are our values. Having an LDS candidate is a reason to talk more about what those values are, what the obligations of citizenship are, how we think about the world, and hopefully to have some vigorous conversations on how to explore different sides on those situations.