Students dismiss VP candidates' influence on voting
By Dirk VanderHart
Special to CNN
Editor's Note: Campus Vibe is a weekly feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Dirk VanderHart, enterprise reporter at The State News, the Michigan State University student newspaper. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or Michigan State University.
LANSING, Michigan (CNN) -- With less than three weeks before the 2004 presidential election, many Michigan State University students say they are putting their focus on the presidential candidates, not their running mates.
Though a recent debate between Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic Sen. John Edwards offered an opportunity to see where the vice presidential candidates stand, most students either didn't notice, or didn't care.
"Debates are pretty much a sham," said Michigan State economics senior Mark Hayes, who said he watched the vice presidential debate with only mild interest. "They don't matter to me, but they probably do to average people who are swayed by rhetoric."
Despite his cynicism, Hayes, who said he will vote for Sen. John Kerry on November 2, offered his opinion on the Cheney-Edwards debate.
"Cheney is obviously the brains of the outfit, but he did a piss-poor job," he said. "Edwards came off as idealistic as usual, but he did better than Cheney."
During the course of the 1 1/2 hour-long VP debate, the two candidates clashed over issues such as the war in Iraq, job losses and their records in the Senate.
While Hayes watched the debate, other students didn't think it was worth their time.
"I just never thought to watch it," said Julie Layson, a sophomore. She said she had watched the first presidential debate with interest and will most likely vote for President Bush.
Lackluster reaction to candidates for vice president is nothing new, said political science professor David Rohde -- running mates rarely have an effect on the election of a president.
"There's little evidence from previous presidential elections of a vice presidential candidate having much impact," Rohde said. He said the most recent instance of candidates having sway with voters was in 1988, when studies indicate that the choice between Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen affected about 1 percent of the population.
"I don't think it's that Americans don't take stock in the candidates," Rohde said. "They are voting for a president, not a vice president. It would be strange if people made their decision based on vice presidential candidates."
Still, some students say that the views and ideas put forth by VP candidates are important.
"It gives you a better idea of the platform they are running under," said Drew Fifer, a senior studying advertising. Fifer said that although much of the Cheney-Edwards debate seemed to him like hollow rhetoric, he found some portions interesting.
"The best parts of these debates come from the unexpected things that happen when someone gets caught off-guard," he said.
Although sophomore Anthony DeGrazia was not able to watch the debate, a burgeoning interest in politics has made him pay attention to what the vice presidential candidates have to say.
"Maybe it's because what TV's been telling me, but I think it's important," said DeGrazia, who has not decided who he will vote for, although he said he was leaning toward Kerry after watching an interview on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
"I've been trying to read more newspapers, but TV's such a readily available source of information," DeGrazia said.
He noted that people should take VP candidates into consideration because of the influence they can have on presidential decisions.
"It's always important who you surround yourself with."