Del Campo High School senior Cameron Purcell will be voting in his first presidential election and he remains solidly undecided which way he will be casting that vote.
The high school football player and AP government student has listened to the debates and remembers a 2008 election where the youth vote received a lot of coverage in mainstream media. Purcell explained that despite his lack of voting experience, the young voter understands that his vote will be the culmination of informed decision-making based partly on the way the issues directly impact him.
“I don’t know if I’m as educated as I should be at this point, but through the class we’ve watched the [presidential] debates and we have open discussions with people sharing their opinions,” Purcell said.
Being a high school student presents Purcell with a unique opportunity. It’s an opportunity and a responsibility, he said.
Purcell's AP government professor, Michael Gordon, explained much of what he has taught Purcell and other students is based on a pre-approved curriculum and many of the conclusions his students draw are based on their interpretation of that material.
“We have a textbook, but we’re not in it a lot,” Gordon said. “It’s mostly supplemental reads and concepts, but by taking the class and understanding the class, I find they are more prepared individuals to be successful in society from a civic perspective.”
Gordon, a former healthcare researcher under the Clinton administration, received his education from Northeastern University in Boston where his academic adviser was former Massachusetts Governor and presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Gordon also did an internship with U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy. The high school chair of the social sciences department tries to share the, “realness in politics one doesn’t typically find in textbooks.”
“Through those stories they develop a greater interest in the subject matter because it’s a little more real,” Gordon said.
Purcell, who turns 18 years old on Oct. 25, sat down with Patch to talk about the choices he’s confronting and how his perceptions will ultimately influence his vote.
What issue(s) facing our country do you see taking priority?
I think the economy is taking the forefront at this point. With me going to college next year I see that as a big issue as I figure out where I’m going to find money to pay for it.
With the way the debates have been playing out, what has your class been talking about?
We’ve noticed that the candidates definitely avoid questions — I mean a lot of questions. They might start by answering the question, but then they really go off topic and start saying what they need to say. It hasn’t been very controlled, as we feel. There has been a lot of interrupting, a lot of accusing. At least that’s what we’ve been focusing on.
When you hear that, what kind of reaction do you have?
I think we feel like it should be a little more focused on their views and what they’re going to do rather than trying to put down the other candidate.
If there were questions you could ask either candidate, which come to your mind?
I’d probably ask something along the lines of how I’m going to find ways to pay for college and how I can find grants to help pay for college.
Do you think either candidate has a better solution or one that goes more in line with the way you think?
I would say at this point I’m not a for-sure on one candidate. I need to definitely listen a little bit more and do a little more research on which candidate would do better for that. I feel that I need to know how either candidate is going to best implement their plan better for the nation.
How big of a topic is the election or politics in general in your world?
As far as friends, we don’t talk about it that much. It may pop up here and there. We may talk about it for 20 minutes or something, but then it’s done. Watching the debate with my mom and dad, when topics came up, I’d ask questions and we’d talk about it. At home it definitely comes up.
How are your choices being influenced?
I try to stay away from people influencing what I think. Especially in high school there is a lot of peer pressure around us. I try to make my own decisions.
How politically motivated would you say you are?
I wouldn’t say I’m super politically motivated. I’m interested, but I’m not at a level where I’m completely into it. I’m young and I have a lot to learn. This is kind of part of the process of growing up and moving onto the next step in my life. After high school, it’s onto a bigger world. You’re onto making decisions for yourself and making your decisions when it comes to government is a big part of that.
Why do you think it’s important to get out and vote?
We have something special in this nation, to be able to vote and voice our opinions. I like to be a little more involved than to just sit back and watch things happen.
Do you have any advice for others like you who are getting a chance to vote for the first time?
Get out there and get educated. You have the opportunity not many others in high school have.
There is so much information out there – so many things being thrown at you – how do you make heads or tails of all of it?
You take in what you feel is right. Listen to everything. You may not agree with what everyone is saying, but it’s good to take into consideration what he or she is thinking. I like to not just stick to my one ideology and just always go with that decision. I would rather see what the situation is and see what is best for that situation and make the best decision.
How do you think the youth’s vote has changed since the last election?
Times have changed in the country where my generation … I don’t know how active they have become. We haven’t had to work as hard as past generations would have. We don’t have to immerse ourselves entirely in politics, but know what’s going on at least in your own town, your own state. And knowing what’s happening around the country is definitely going to affect you.
How are you better preparing yourself?
I’ve definitely learned a lot here in AP government. I’ve definitely learned a lot through discussion. I’ve probably learned a lot I probably wouldn’t have on my own. And just asking questions with my parents and discussing things.
Do you feel better prepared?
I feel like I have a better understanding of how government works. I’m not going to say I’ve totally understood it all, but it’s helped me a lot.