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College-Age Voters Defy Easy Definitions

Recent primary contests indicate that young adults could play a key role in selecting the next president. Many college students are volunteering to work on primary campaigns. With Super Tuesday nearly here and the Illinois primary coming up next week, college-age voters have another chance to influence the political landscape. But many of these young voters defy easy description.

Lauretta Schaefer, 21, grew up in a family of conservative Republicans. But this election, she said she is "feeling the Bern."

"The thing about Bernie is, he's been fighting for these things since before my mother was born," the Illinois State University junior  said. She cites Sanders' positions on free college tuition, universal health care and economic opportunity for minorities.

Schaefer said she never thought much about either political party, until now.

"Now that I'm older and know what issues matter to me, I definitely identify with the Democratic side."

DaQuawn Bruce is a political science major at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI. As a teen, he volunteered for the 2012 Obama campaign. He said he now is increasingly drawn to Republican positions, a choice he acknowledged isn't popular in his staunchly Democratic, African American family.

"When I actually came to my family and told them I was a Republican, it was like coming out gay. Everybody was like, 'What? How are you a Republican. What do you mean?' My grandmother called somebody and said, 'Oh, Lord, the boy's a Republican.'"

But even Bruce cannot be pigeon-holed. He likes Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whom he met at a conference in Washington, DC. And he also is closely watching the candidate many consider the anti-Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Bruce disagrees with each of those candidates on some of the issues. For instance, he worries about climate change;  Cruz disputes there is a climate problem. But, Bruce said, "You can't get everything you want in politics."

I also talked with a University of Illinois junior who is trying to make up his mind between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Kasich, as well as an ISU student who considers herself "an undecided independent."

The Super Tuesday primaries may end up eliminating some candidates in each party's field, so it is unclear who will be left by the time Illinois votes March 15. Supporters in both parties are hoping for a record turnout. WGLT and the McLean County League of Women Voters are co-sponsoring a public forum Thursday March 3 at 6 p.m. at University Galleries in Uptown Normal.