Poll Shows Political Awareness Low at Clark College

By Robert Berman in Opinion

Ballots dropped into Washington voters’ mailboxes two weeks ago. Meanwhile, television ads, local news stations and yard signs have been dragging voters’ opinions back and forth with emotional appeals and catchy punch lines. Some of what they advertise is true, but a lot of it is misleading.

Voter misinformation is a nationwide problem, but a learning institution like Clark College should do its best to combat it at least on a local level. Students are prompted to register for vote when they register for classes, but Clark does very little to improve voter awareness beyond that.

Evidence of misinformation among Clark students surfaces every time The Independent conducts a poll or student interview on a current political issue.

Ezekiel Brouhard, a freelance reporter, witnessed the problem first-hand while reporting on a story on the Affordable Care Act. He asked students how much they knew about the law. Most admitted that they did not know much about it. Worse still, some students were shocked to learn that the Affordable Care Act and “Obamacare” are the same law.

Not knowing about a law passed years ago is one thing. Being misinformed about an initiative that is on the ballot now is downright dangerous. Voting without accurate knowledge of the initiative could mean voting against your own interest. These laws have real-life consequences.

At the bottom of every questionnaire sheet for this issue’s poll on initiative 522 was the question, “Why are you voting that way?” The answers revealed that some students did not understand that the initiative would mandate labelling of genetically modified organisms in food.

Five people said they are familiar with the debate over genetically modified foods, know what I-522 is and are voting against it. Of those, two said they were voting against the initiative because people deserve to know what is in their food. One person said he was voting in favor of the law, because there is no reason to be worried about genetically modified foods and the hype is all scare tactics.

More than half of the students polled said they flat-out do not know what I-522 says. The results are not necessarily a perfect representation of the student body, but they suggest that around three-quarters of students are uninformed or misinformed about the initiative.

The effort to change those numbers does not have to be massive. Using the college website or the Cannell Library web page would be a good online option. The college could provide links to information on initiatives, candidates, their endorsements and their criticisms. Even better, Clark could hold a student success workshop in Fall quarter that teaches students how to find balanced information on current political issues.

There are misinformed voters at every level of democracy in our country, but Clark is a learning institution with the ears of thousands of potential voters. The college could further its commitment to education by ensuring its students know how to inform themselves about important issues.

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