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Inside Politics

North and South, Left and Right at Emory U.

By Andy Walton
CNN

The newly renovated Candler Library anchors one end of Emory's quadrangle.
The newly renovated Candler Library anchors one end of Emory's quadrangle.

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Editor's note: As part of our coverage of the 2004 election season, CNN.com is sending correspondents to the colleges where they studied to report on issues affecting today's young voters. In this edition, Andy Walton returns to his alma mater, Emory University.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Democratic presidential contender John Edwards is pinning his hopes in the Super Tuesday nominating contests on a strong showing in the Southern states that the North Carolina senator calls his "back yard."

But how much difference do regional backgrounds make in the 21st century, and among the newest generation of voters?

Emory University is in the South, but only about 40 percent of its undergraduates are from the region; 31-33 percent are from the Northeast, 11 percent from the Midwest, and single digits from the West, Southwest and overseas.

Lyle Rubin of Connecticut, the editorials page editor of The Emory Wheel, the school's student newspaper, doesn't see politics along regional lines.

"I really don't see that much of a distinction politically between the Northern students and the Southern students," he says.

Rubin's predecessor as editor, Jeff Jackson of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, agrees.

"The predisposition is to think that Southern politics is going to be more Republican, more conservative, and that Northern politics is going to be more liberal and more Democratic" he says, but that doesn't hold with younger voters.

"My generation, our generation, isn't so much concerned with where you're from. We don't have as much of a connection, a feel for the politics of our ancestors ... we are losing the idea of separate identities between the North and South," Jackson says.

But Ed Thayer, the chairman of the school's College Republicans, has a different perspective.

"A very large number of our constituents are from South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia," says Thayer, who is from California. "Southerners are far and away the largest constituency of the College Republicans," Thayer says, though he also notes that he has met a number of liberal Southerners.

"Everybody who comes here seems to be pretty Democratic, no matter where they're from," says Will Caldwell, a freshman from St. Simon's Island, Georgia. "I know maybe three or four Republicans."

North and South or Left and Right?

Despite Emory's conservative Methodist roots -- dancing was frowned upon until 1941 -- an informal survey of students yielded estimates from 75/25 to 60/40 in favor of Democrats. That underdog status, and a school administration they see as biased against conservatives, inspires the College Republicans.

Democrat Caroline Rose and Republican Ed Thayer discuss political life at Emory.
Democrat Caroline Rose and Republican Ed Thayer discuss political life at Emory.

"We have fire in our bellies precisely because of that," Thayer says. "We have always uphill battles, and I think that inspires people ... We feel like we're taken for granted, and we need to stick up for our rights a little more and assert ourselves a little more."

Being in the majority has its own dangers.

"A large part of our student body is from the North, and a large part of our student body is liberal," says Caroline Rose, a John Kerry campaign volunteer from West Virginia. "It just makes you lazy when you don't have to fight ... [when] the majority of people in your classes or in your social circle are liberal, you don't feel like you have to go out there and change people's minds."

The 'a' word

Aside from the activists, Emory students have something in common with their counterparts around the country: They don't vote. Voters between 18 and 24 traditionally have the lowest turnout of any age group, and as on most campuses, talk among politically active students eventually lands on the dreaded 'a' word -- apathy.

Several voter registration drives have been conducted on campus, and almost every student in an informal survey said they and their friends were registered to vote and planned to vote -- but all predicted a wide gap between the number registered and those who would turn out.

"As far as people who are actually going to vote, that's another story," says Snehal Shah, a junior from Atlanta. "If a majority of people are registered to vote, then maybe 50 percent of that will actually vote. Hopefully."

"I don't hold that against them," Jackson says. "Most of them aren't doing their laundry, either."

Yusef Mosley and Shijuade Kadree plan to vote in the general election, but are passing on the primaries.
Yusef Mosley and Shijuade Kadree plan to vote in the general election, but are passing on the primaries.

Shijuade Kadree, a junior, plans to vote in the general election, but "in the primaries, no, I'll be honest." Yusef Mosley, a pre-med junior, says he will be busy with MCAT classes on Super Tuesday, but also intends to vote in the general election.

"It's almost unfair to expect a high percentage of people to get to the polls, given that we're brand new to caring about this, and we're brand new to managing our time," Jackson says. "A lot of people take 10 years to get used to that. A lot of people never get used to that."

Another complication is that most Emory students will vote -- or not -- by absentee ballot. Eric Gold, a freshman from Gaithersburg, Maryland, says his absentee ballot arrived too late.

"It's really hard, because everyone's from out of state," Rose says. "That's the issue -- not necessarily being registered to vote, but going online, getting the thing sent to you in time and sending it back by deadline. It's more work to vote here."


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