In a political year best described as bizarre, last week I found myself cautioning junior high students at a mock presidential debate not to resort to the type of name calling and rude interruptions they have heard from the actual candidates.
In other words, I told junior high students to rise above the junior high behavior of the adults running for the highest office in the land.
I needn’t have worried. The young debaters at Legacy Preparatory Academy, a charter school in
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Woods Cross, were poised and polite. Chosen to represent the presidential candidates by Paul Maloy, an energetic and popular history teacher (and my good friend), they responded intelligently and as best they could to my questions as a moderator, based on their research of the candidates’ positions.
With less than a week to go before Election Day, I wish the rest of the adult world would act as well. Last-minute sabotage efforts, such as robocalls questioning the sexual orientation of one of the presidential candidates, have set new low standards in Utah for people who ought to take their franchise more seriously.
Even so, the frantic campaigning may be mostly wasted energy. If history is a guide, a lot of Utahns won’t bother to show up.
That didn’t used to be the case. From the early ‘60s to the early ‘80s, the average turnout of eligible voters was 59 percent, according to the Washington Times. But since 1986, that average has fallen to 44 percent. Two years ago, the lieutenant governor’s office reports, only 46.25 percent of even the registered voters showed up.
If you want to be embarrassed, the website Wallethub.com published a ranking this week of the nation’s most politically engaged states, and Utah finished a dismal 44th. The site looked at what it called seven key indicators, ranging from the percentage of people who voted in the last presidential election to the number of political contributors per capita. Utah ranked 50th in the percentage of voting aged people who actually registered in 2012, which was amazing considering Mitt Romney was at the top of the ballot.
But that wasn’t the most interesting part. Observers have noticed a correlation between voting and education. The more schooling someone attains, the more likely he or she is to vote. Wallethub has a chart to demonstrate this. Sure enough, West Virginia ranks 50th in terms of education and is 51st (including the District of Columbia) in terms of political engagement.
But Utah is a different story. It ranks a respectable 17th in terms of education, and yet it is politically disengaged.
I suspect this has something to do with one-party domination, which is why next week will be so interesting to watch. Utah has gone from the most predictable light in the political firmament to a strange UFO with an uncertain trajectory. It is the only state that could go one of three ways, making it a sort of super swing state.
The kids at Legacy Preparatory weren’t thinking about being a bellwether for the state when I visited last week. And yet, this was the third time I was privileged to moderate a mock debate there as a prelude to a presidential election, and each previous time the students who cast ballots after the debate correctly predicted how the state would go. Of course, doing so in 2008 and 2012 was about as difficult as predicting over which horizon the sun would rise.
This year, Maloy added the Evan McMullin-Mindy Finn ticket to the stage, given the results of recent polls and his desire to let another female student participate. As it turned out, that ticket won a plurality of the 265 votes cast, with 44 percent. The ballot included all the candidates Utahns will choose among, and each of them received some votes.
Does this mean anything? Will Legacy Prep’s record stay intact? We’ll find out on Tuesday.
We’ll also learn something else. If the over-18 crowd in Utah doesn’t match the 75 percent voter participation at Legacy Prep, that will be at least one more way in which junior high students act more adult than their elders.