Why College Students’ Votes Matter
Three prominent journalists encouraged Georgia Southern students to become more involved in the political process by showing up to vote on Election Day. Former ABC News “Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson addressed the students as part of the University’s Leadership Lecture Series, which is designed to expose students to insights from world-class leaders.
“2016 Elections: Voting as an Informed Citizen,” was the topic for the three-member panel at Hanner Fieldhouse held in spring 2016; however, much of the discussion focused on the race for the Republican Party presidential nomination. In explaining why today’s young voters should be paying attention to the presidential primary campaign, Robinson, a Washington Post columnist said, “I don’t know what could be more compelling than a political year like this one in terms of drawing people into the political process.” National Public Radio’s Liasson noted, “What happens in state capitals and in Washington affects young voters and they have to take ownership of the issues. If you don’t think that something is at stake this year, you are really living under a rock.”
The visiting journalists addressed GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s impact on the presidential campaign and the Republican Party. Koppel, who has spent more than 50 years as a professional journalist, described Trump as the ideal Twitter candidate. “It’s extraordinary. He gives no answers to substantive questions,” Koppel said. “He has learned how to use social media in a fashion that we have never seen before. He keeps exceeding all expectations.”
The panel noted that in a normal election year, the huge story would involve the Bernie Sanders phenomenon – that of a socialist-leaning democrat – who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination. “His story is second tier because this is Trump’s year,” Robinson said. “No one saw this coming a year ago.”
Liasson agreed that Trump’s impact on the campaign has been overwhelming. “He has sucked all the oxygen out of the room,” she said while calling his effect on the Republican Party profound. “The Republican Party is either cracking up or being utterly transformed before our eyes and we’ve never seen anything like this because he is diametrically opposed to most of the bedrock principles of the Republican Party as we have known it: free trade, entitlement reform, support for a strong military abroad and the Iraq war.”
Koppel pointed out that terrorism, homeland security and immigration are some of the main issues for voters in deciding what presidential nominee to support. The broadcaster said the candidates are capitalizing on the issue of terrorism while overlooking far greater dangers to the American people. In his recent book, Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, Koppel examined the impact of a cyberattack on America’s power grid and what the nation should be doing to prepare for the potential catastrophe. While visiting Georgia Southern he said, “The likelihood of that happening is to quote a candidate ‘YUGE. It’s going to happen and when it happens the United States is totally unprepared. If one of our power grids is knocked out, tens of millions of people will be without electricity for months at a time. That’s a real threat and it hasn’t even come up in this campaign.”
The guest speakers urged voters to become more informed about politics by reading and listening to news that is “not just the news you want to hear and agree with.” They also had words for Georgia Southern students pursuing careers in journalism. “I would tell them to be flexible,” Robinson said. “We have no idea what this profession is going to look like in the future but I think it is an exciting time. We’re inventing new models all the time.”
Georgia Southern hosted Michele Norris as the featured speaker for the 2015 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. Norris is the founder of the Race Card Project, an initiative intended to foster dialogue about race through six-word descriptions. We asked this year’s Leadership Lecture Series speakers to use six words to sum up the race for president?
British born American Journalist Ted Koppel:
I chose to be an American citizen.
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist Eugene Robinson:
Donald Trump could really be president.
NPR National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson:
The old Republican Party is extinct.
— Sandra Bennett
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