For most undergraduates on campus, the upcoming election will be our first as eligible voters. And while many of us haven’t yet formally had our political say, we have undoubtedly constructed our own set of political ideas. I myself have developed a political attitude which most would define as liberal. However, like all things politics, it’s never quite so simple.

Sarah Rohan

I have at the forefront of my mind a problem entirely separate from, and yet utterly pertinent to, my political concerns for America: the Middle East. Such a concern makes politics far more than a simple issue of bi-partisanship. So, while I tend to be left-leaning in my social values, my attitude toward Israel more closely resembles a conservative outlook.

This concern, however, is just a personal example of a universal issue which young voters will grapple with for the first time this November. There will rarely ever be any one candidate who embodies the entirety of one’s political ethos. We must consider what issues matter to us most and how we deal with them when they seem to conflict.

To make an educated decision, one must be an educated voter. It’s all too easy to define a candidate by only one of his many political positions. For example, students often see Ron Paul as the candidate who supports the legalization of marijuana. Oftentimes, however, the same voters will know little to nothing about his job-stimulus proposals. To vote for a candidate without knowing his positions on all but a few issues is to inadequately exercise your right to vote.

As young people, we tend to be more shortsighted, concerned mainly with issues dealing with the here and now. Young voters are more likely to pay attention to policies concerning social liberties, such as gay marriage, military action, job availability and drug policies. It’s easy to ignore issues like social security and Medicare, which will only affect our generation in the distant future. But, as voters, we must remember that whomever we elect will have a say in these important issues which affect not only our fellow citizens, but will likely one day affect us too.

Finally, as inexperienced voters, we stand in a unique position. Too often we hear more weathered voters restrictively define themselves as either Democratic, Republican or Independent. Having not yet officially committed to any party, first-time voters should take the time to consider candidates independent of their party affiliation. In other words, vote for policies and positions rather than parties.

Few of us yet possess the burdens and responsibilities of a mortgage, paying taxes and facing the costs of raising children. And though the issue of healthcare is extremely important in this election, most of us do not yet have to worry about funding our own healthcare coverage. As voters acquire these responsibilities with time and age, their interests tend to shift from “what is best for the country” to “what is best for me.” Before it’s too late, let’s reflect on and decide what we believe is best for our country. We should cultivate a habit of voting for the well-being of society at large instead of the well-being of our own special interests.

This upcoming election, I will have to decide whether to re-elect a president whose social values closely reflect my own, but whose attitudes toward Israel might be less aligned with mine than those of other candidates. Another student on campus who identifies with Ron Paul’s stance on marijuana legalization, but who believes in aggressive foreign policy, will have to make a choice as well. I can’t tell students which of their often-conflicting opinions should take precedence and which should be swept to the side. What I can suggest is that students become versed in the many complex and varied policies of each candidate. In this way, first time voters can best do justice to their own opinions and to those of their fellow citizens.

Sarah Rohan can be reached at shrohan@umich.edu.

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