Widespread misconceptions about candidates on campus

HELPING HANDS: Senior Payal Patal stands in front of the “Yes We Van,” a shuttle organized by the UM chapter of the Young and College Democrats. Courtesy UM Young Democrats.

“I like to talk about the economy but a lot of my friends care more about [Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack] Obama and Bill Ayers or [Republican presidential candidate Sen. John] McCain being old than taxes,” said Cameron Harati, a sophomore who discusses politics with friends but is not confident that their enthusiasm for the candidates is substantive.

Sophomore Robert Murstein said that some students are enthusiastic about the candidates, but their support stems from image and personality rather than the issues and qualifications.

“Kids are talking more about the election this year because of how cool Obama is, or the fact that McCain was a prisoner of war,” Murstein said. “People are getting e-mails and texts from the campaigns or chain letters [that include questionable claims].”

Some students are generally confused about the candidates’ platforms.

When asked if they believe McCain is for stem-cell research, many students believe he is not. However, McCain has been a strong advocate of stem-cell research throughout the election.

Michael Weiss, a 26-year-old doctoral student and member of the UM College Democrats, believes many students are misinformed.

“Students should be discussing policies and the economy, not distractions,” he said. “But even when people talk about their proposals, they do not have their facts straight.”

Other students believe the candidates’ overall character is equal to the policies they claim to support.

“I’m looking for someone who walks the walk,” said law student Harout Samra, the state chairman of the Florida Federation of College Republicans.

Samra believes issues of personal judgment are relevant to this election and views McCain as the more trustworthy candidate because of his military service and years of experience as a statesman.

Many students agree that relationships and issues of judgment are fair game; when asked about political conversations they have with friends, most students say their discussions focus more on the candidates’ traits and characteristics than their policies.

Sophomore Brad Weisberg, a member of the UM College Democrats, agrees that the question of character is important.

“The person elected is going to be in charge of running this country and we should understand the type of people that influence them,” he said.

Weisberg said he believes that lobbyists usually influence campaign policy more than personal relationships and that both candidates are backed by special interests.

The explosiveness of rumors is so significant this election that Obama has set up a Web site that specifically attempts to refute contentious statements about his campaign and personal life. The site, fightthesmears.com, addresses issues such as Obama’s connection to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the rumor about Michelle Obama using derogatory terms such as “whitey.”

Could the lack of factual political information impair them from making a well-informed decision on election day?

John Twichell, a professor of comparative politics, believes students are able to sift through the rumors and evaluate the issues to make an informed choice, regardless of numerous students at the university voicing their concerns about the student body being politically misinformed.

“Students are well informed about the issues that matter – foreign policy and broader economic and domestic policies,” Twichell said.