Though the 2008 presidential election has more students interested in politics, political science teachers aren’t using the election as a tool in their classrooms.
Current political issues are sometimes raised at the beginning of J. Edwin Benton’s Political Behavior/Public Opinion/Elections class, but the main focus of the class is to learn the class materials, Benton said.
The same goes for Steven Tauber’s American National Government class with 250 students, in which he doesn’t discuss the topic of elections until the end of the semester.
In Tauber’s upper-level class, Constitutional Law, there is more room to discuss current events in a way that is more tailored to the class.
“The students focus less on the personalities and more on the powers of government,” Tauber said.
In classes with more than 250 students and packed syllabi, there is often not enough time for teachers to discuss the election.
“Some classes don’t deal with the presidential election, so the teachers don’t deal with it,” said Mohsen Milani, Government and International Affairs department chair.
Professors can tell that students are interested in the election by the political buttons and T-shirts they wear to class, even if there is no time to discuss it, Tauber said.
The interest is due in part to the issues of this particular election, Benton said.
“The students seem a little bit more interested because this election seems to be more important and grabs students’ attention more because of the recession, gas prices and Iraq,” he said.
Milani said the impression that he gets of this year’s election is that students are more into it and the intensity of interest is more widespread.
Though the topic of the election isn’t widely used in the classroom, Benton said it does make studying politics more fun.
“It’s an exciting time to study politics because you get to see it played out before your eyes,” he said.
Whether students will still be interested in the study of politics after the election depends partly on the outcome of the race.
“If it is very close, students will be engaged and interested and wondering ‘What can we expect?'” Benton said.
If Obama wins, his inauguration will be a big deal and most of his proposals will go through, Tauber said. If McCain wins, the issues will be between him and Congress.
The USF College Republicans and College Democrats are creating various initiatives to keep students interested in studying politics long after the election and classes are over.
The College Democrats have several events lined up for next semester to teach students about campaigning and lobbying, said Matt Coppens, the organization’s president.
The College Republicans are also working to keep students involved by reverting to a social club after the election that will include debates on current issues and some fundraisers, said Jonathan Geary, the organization’s chair.
Though it can be difficult to keep the student-interest momentum going after the election, Tauber said the best way is to keep talking about it.