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Reflections On A Campus Visit: What We Learned From Young Voters At Drake

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we've said, the Democratic debate took place last night at Drake University. And that's the same place I held my panel on youth voters earlier in the week. And while I was talking with faculty and students on stage, producer Liz Baker was wandering around campus talking with other students about their political involvement. So Liz, what did I miss? What was it like out there on campus?

LIZ BAKER, BYLINE: It was beautiful. It was a beautiful day to be on campus. I was really surprised by how involved all the students were - not just the ones on your panel but the ones that I saw all over the place. We were there on Tuesday, and everything was ramping up for the debate that happened last night. But it was a really focused sort of energy that really reminded me of final exam week on any other campus. Here's a Jeb Bush campaign intern, Jack Hellie, that I spoke with.

JACK HELLIE: My whole college experience really is kind of based around this year and this caucus. I've been at school, and three years I've been involved in politics in Iowa. That's pretty unique and exciting, and it's so much fun.

MARTIN: You know, Liz, that made me wonder what's the chicken and what's the egg? Do people go to Drake because they're interested in politics, or are they interested in politics because they go to Drake?

BAKER: Yeah, I think a lot of students do go there because they're interested in politics. Everybody that I spoke to said it was so fun to be involved. Some of them come from small towns where they were the only politics nerd in their high school. Here's one student that I spoke with, Noah Canadie. He was putting out O'Malley campaign signs all over the quad.

NOAH CANADIE: You get to talk to people, and you get people to challenge your views, which is honestly the greatest thing ever. Like, my roommate, he's an intern for Jeb Bush. And him and I talk politics and we challenge each other, and we're best friends. And it just makes us better for it. And that's what I love.

MARTIN: You know, I'm glad you brought that up because that's another thing that I noticed. Being in Washington, D.C., where you and I both are, we see how polarized the politics are, that - you know, we're told that Democrats and Republicans rarely even eat lunch together anymore...

BAKER: Right.

MARTIN: ...On Capitol Hill. It just wasn't - doesn't seem to have been like that with the student activists you met.

BAKER: No, not at all. And you hear that Iowa's in general a purple state, but especially the students here on this campus. I heard from a lot of Republicans, a lot of Democrats, and they were all hanging out together. I went to a watch party for the GOP debate that was on Fox that night, that was Tuesday. And it was co-hosted by the Drake Republicans and the Drake Democrats. They co-host all of the debate watch parties. There were about 30 students. They were all spread out together. But one thing that really stood out to me was that every single student was on a second or third screen. They were on their iPads. They were on their phones. They were tweeting. They were texting. They were Facebooking. And they weren't really talking to each other in the room.

MARTIN: Interesting. Did any issues stand out? That's obviously the kind of thing that a lot of the candidates are interested in. So did any issues kind of rise up?

BAKER: You know, not really. The students were all over the place on issues. One student Republican that I spoke said the Export-Import Bank was a big deal for him, and that's why he supports Rubio. It seemed so strange to me, except that you have to remember that these students realize that they're not going to be in college forever, and they do have to think about the health of the economy and fiscal policies when they get out. I also ran into a Bernie Sanders volunteer, and she was chalking signs all over the quad.

LISA GERLACH: #FeelTheBern. What really got me was his passion. When Bernie says something, you know, it's because Bernie believes it, not because it's a popular opinion or because it's trending right now. He says things that he really believes in.

BAKER: So I got the feeling that a lot of these students were really focused on the general energy and the fun of the campaign and of the candidate.

MARTIN: Liz Baker is a producer for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Thanks, Liz.

BAKER: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.