On campuses, political debates fuel drinking games, and little else

Last week, college students across America were glued to their dorm room televisions once again, hanging on every word that President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney said in their third presidential campaign debate, and hoping they would hear a phrase telling them that it was time to take some action.

They weren’t tuning in to hear about Romney’s tax plan or Obama’s job outlook. They weren’t watching to see a substantive clash over Democratic and Republic policy differences No, they were playing a “debate drinking game,” a phenomenon that has swept across the nation’s campuses and involves such things as taking a gulp of beer every time a candidate says “Libya” or, according to a set of rules on brobible.com, you “take off your shirt, flaunt your chest hair, and swig a vodka drink” if Vladimir Putin’s name is mentioned.

There is no overarching set of rules for debate drinking games; students make up their own, or find them online in a variety of publications. Time, Fox News, and the Huffington Post, for example, all posted their own debate drinking games for the foreign policy debate. All of this may seem like an innocent way for students to enjoy the debate, but what does it say about their interest in the reality of American political life, which is hardly a game?

Sure, college kids drink; always have and always will. But binge drinking is on the rise, according to numerous studies, and seemingly infiltrating every aspect of campus life.

In one of my recent sociology classes, the professor asked the students if they thought the majority of students at Boston College would vote in November. The answer was a unanimous “no.” And why?
“It’s too hard to get an absentee ballot.”…“Many of them live in a guaranteed red or blue state.”… “They don’t know the issues well enough.”

To some, this political apathy among college students can be directly related to the widespread consumption of alcohol on campuses. A recent study by Scarborough Research found that drinkers of Natural Light, Busch, and Bud Light have some of the lowest voter turnouts when compared to drinkers of other brands. The study also found that drinkers of these beers are the most politically neutral, falling directly in the middle, with no Democratic or Republican preferences.

And what do college kids drink, many of them on a binge basis? The cheapest beers on the market, with Natural Light, Busch, and Bud Light among the most popular choices. This is the group that represents the youngest six years of American voters, and tens of thousands of college students across the country.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines binge drinking as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men within two hours. Close to 30 percent of 18 to 24 year olds in the US are binge drinkers, according to a January 2012 study by the CDC.

As a student at Boston College, I have been looking for signs of interest from students in this election, but I haven’t found much — one Mitt Romney sign in a college dorm room window (none for Obama). Why isn’t there a sign in every window? I wonder.

The College Republicans of BC recently set up a table in the main part of campus to hand out Scott Brown bumper stickers. That’s a great way to make voters aware of the tight Senatorial election in Massachusetts. But what else were they handing out? College Republican bottle openers and Ping-Pong balls, which are used for one thing in college— beer pong. To me, this reflected badly on a group of students who seem to care more about getting free drinking game paraphernalia than they do about the positions that the College Republicans stand for.

Where are the students of the ‘70s who vehemently opposed the Vietnam War? Where are the college students of the ‘80s who were passionately opposed to Reagan’s economic policies? Or even the students who came out in record numbers four years ago to elect President Obama?

A Twitter page called “Women’s Humor,” tweeted last Thursday: “The only reason I watched the debate was so that I could understand the jokes on Twitter.”

During Monday’s debate, a similar page called “Men’s Humor” tweeted: “Take a drink every time Romney’s forehead frowns. #debate.”

Yes, these are jokes, but for me this sums up the mentality that exists among far too many college students in 2012. Rather than taking stock of critical political issues and trying to gauge the implications that electing either man will have on our nation, they wait for funny sound bites to laugh about with their friends.

The political indifference of so many of these youngest of American voters is troubling. If they became interested, and then mobilized, they could play a powerful role in elections that determine where this country is and where it should be going.

The debates are now over, but the campaign isn’t. Who knows? Maybe a late commitment and a strong mobilization over the final days by Natural Light drinkers will surprise everyone and swing this election.

Patrick Gallagher is a senior at Boston College.