BYU mirrors American politics in its levels of political apathy — political activism often sits on the back burner while students focus their social and academic lives and plan to get involved “someday.”
Combating political apathy can be a challenge. Zaida Hill, a senior studying political science, is co-president of the BYU College Democrats. “It’s important to be politically involved. There’s a lot we can do in Provo, but nobody gets involved,” she said.
Rebecca Linville, a sophomore from Texas studying pre-accounting, said that although she finds politics and current events interesting, she sometimes gets distracted.
The demands of college life can be great, and the high quality of the student body can deter some students from participating in the political process.
“How can one person among so many bright and talented people actually make a difference?” asked Elisabeth Kindmark, a junior studying elementary education. “This is why we must constantly reassure ourselves that every little bit counts.”
“They feel like their work within the community or their vote won’t count for anything,” said Nichole Pavez, a junior in political science and Latin American studies who works with the BYU College Democrats.
Matthew Bell, president of the BYU College Republicans and a senior studying political science, believes that students do not get involved in politics because the states they come from are either on one side of the political spectrum or the other. Bell believes that BYU students are not politically apathetic. “I do, however, think that BYU students have other priorities that surpass politics,” he said.
Quinn Mecham, a professor in the Political Science Department, added insight to politics at BYU.
“I don’t know if it mirrors the general population … or if it’s unique to BYU,” Mecham said. “One reason people in general don’t get involved is because of a feeling of a lack of efficacy. They don’t feel like getting involved would influence the outcomes.”
According to the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University, in the last presidential election between President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney voter turnout among the general population was only 58.2 percent. This shows that political apathy runs nationwide, and overcoming it can be a challenge.
“Utah’s pretty politically conservative, and no matter what they will get the same result,” Hill said.
While many openly acknowledge that learning about current political issues is important, nobody is required to learn or get involved. However, an important factor of American democracy is being educated on current issues.
“I really admired those teachers that made us read the newspaper,” Linville said. “It just needs to be talked about more in classrooms.”
Mecham believes that while it is the responsibility of the education system to help inform people about the political process, it is mainly the responsibility of political and civil organizations to get people involved. “People should be learning why political issues matter to them,” he said.
Bell suggested that reminding students of their religious obligation could help motivate them to be more politically active.
“It is necessary for students to understand how politics and religion are closely related, and how political service and activism falls under our responsibility as Latter-day Saints,” Bell said.
Overcoming the silent majority at BYU is possible. Hill believes it’s better for students to find common ground rather than focus on issues where they differ.
Bell and Hill belong to opposing political parties, but they agree that student involvement in politics is important.
“Just as one candle can give light to a vast darkness, one person can make a difference by standing up for what they believe in,” Kindmark said. “All it takes is that one, tiny flame.”