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What are MIT students thinking about regarding this year’s presidential elections? The Forum on American Progress (FAP) has long been pondering this question. As a student group that aims to explore America’s role on the world stage, FAP decided to conduct a political interest survey in the weeks leading up to the Election Day. The results of our survey will hopefully offer some insights into how we, as a student body, might behave at the polls.

Our poll — which was hosted online and promoted via campuswide e-mails — received 605 responses from both graduate and undergraduate students.

We asked first how many students actually had plans to vote in this year’s election. We were pleased to find that 91 percent of those surveyed were registered to vote — with 85 percent having already made arrangements to vote absentee or early in person.

Next, we wanted to know how the student body would break down by party affiliation. We were not surprised to find that more than a quarter of MIT students describe themselves as “Independent.” Perhaps this result is indicative of our Institute’s mission — to engage students in thinking about world problems with a sense of open-mindedness that emphasizes critical thinking and objective analysis. MIT students are frequently praised for being independent thinkers. As an extension of this mindset, are we less inclined to tie ourselves with one political party and, therefore, only one set of policy positions and objectives? Party affiliations aside, Senator Barack Obama commands 72 percent of students’ support.

What concerns us as an organization is how MIT, as a leading institution of science, engineering, and technology in the country (if not the world), can begin to take a leadership role in influencing American public policy. Eighty percent of students feel that MIT has a somewhat or very large role in affecting America’s science policy. Yet, why is it that when asked how politically active we are on a scale of one to ten, most of us say five — just average?

As students, we should be finding ways to connect what we learn in class and through UROPs to the world’s demands for social and economic change. FAP encourages this outlook and the dialogue that is needed to cultivate it. We commit ourselves to raising political awareness on campus on issues of public policy. We continue to ask ourselves and the larger MIT community: how can America sustain its leadership in a manner that advances the global community’s progress?

In a few hours, we will find out how closely MIT students voted with respect to everyone else in the country. More importantly, we will know who our next president will be. Today can be a turning point in our nation’s progress. We ask you to consider, as you cast your ballot, how you will effect societal change — during your time at MIT, and far beyond.

Manvi Goel ’10 is the leader of the Forum on American Progress.