University of Tennessee students, typically absent from voting booths during state elections, are showing a strong interest in this year's state senate race, according to a recent poll.
The survey indicated that over half of the registered voters at UT plan to vote in the upcoming Tennessee legislative and gubernatorial races.
The survey found that 70 percent of students polled were registered to vote. Of those students registered to vote, 59 percent reported they planned to vote in the upcoming elections for governor and state legislators.
The ongoing search for funding at the university has prompted some students to take an interest in state politics. The poll found that 72 percent of the students felt the state legislature didn't take their academic needs seriously, and 69 percent felt the legislature didn't take funding higher education seriously.
"If students don't vote, how are they going to be heard?" said Taryn Hendrix, a junior. "You have to let them know how you feel about an issue. I personally feel like it's my right and my duty as a citizen."
Sixty-five percent of the students polled agreed that students could have an effect on the outcome of the elections for state legislators, and 97 percent indicated that voting was of some importance to them. However, only half of UT's registered voters are registered to vote in Knox County.
Of those students not registered to vote, 81 percent said that they would be willing to register and vote to help UT get more funding.
"If only half the students here were registered to vote for Knox County, and they actually turned out to vote, we could have a very serious impact on any election. Just think of the numbers. I think a whole lot of people here haven't realized that," said
Andrew Haun, a senior in psychology.
Student concern in the area of funding seems to be the determining factor in who students are willing to cast their votes for. East Tennessee is a predominantly conservative area politically, but, according to the poll, students are not as concerned with the party affiliation of candidates as with their plans for funding higher education.
Some 72 percent of students registered to vote indicated that they would be willing to vote for a candidate in a party other than the one they identified with if they thought it would increase funding for the university.
Of the registered voters, 51 percent identified themselves as Republicans and 34 percent identified themselves as Democrats. Democrats were the most flexible with 80 percent indicating that they would be willing to vote for a candidate from another party versus 64 percent of Republicans.
"Right now, the way things are, I would be willing to vote for almost anybody if I thought they might actually listen to what the students had to say," said Veronica France, a junior in journalism.
Elections are in November of this year for governor, state senate and state house. The city of Knoxville and UT are a part of district 7.

- Contributed by K.C. Allen, Samantha Anglin, Minday Belitz and Vicky Bridgeforth. Specials to the Beacon.