What College Kids Care About: Election Edition

At the New York Times Room for Debate, the question posed was what college students care about in deciding who to vote for in the 2016 presidential elections.  Note that beer, sex and getting other college kids expelled were not on the list.

While it’s unclear, and unlikely, that the seven students answering are representative of anyone or anything, they do offer some illuminating insights.

For example, Ashton Pittman, a junior at the University of Southern Mississippi, was quite emphatic that the most important issue for him was the next Supreme Court justice.

As a Southerner whose region’s history is rife with tales of discrimination, I know that there is no more important issue for 2016 presidential candidates than the question of who they will nominate to sit on the United States Supreme Court.

After all, without the Supreme Court, neither the law nor county clerks like Dunn would ever have changed.

Dunn refers to the Hinds County Circuit Clerk, Barbara Dunn, who refused to give marriage licenses to same sex couples.

“When the law changes, I’ll change,” I heard Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn promise each couple as she turned them away.

At the time, Pittman found this heart-wrenching:

“This is our state, our home,” one woman sobbed, collapsing on her female partner’s shoulder after their application was rejected.

That moment of human indignity highlights for me how essential our federal court system is in protecting the rights of minority citizens against infractions by the majority.

Notwithstanding his curious use of the word “indignity,” he is concerned about the Tyranny of the Majority. Still, he doesn’t mention how that justice might rule on due process, abortion, search and seizure or the right to keep and bear arms, but only same sex marriages.

The next president of the United States may very well have the chance to fundamentally remake the nation’s highest court for decades beyond his or her time in office.

That’s very true.

From elite Dartmouth, senior John Damianos writes:

My peers and I live in fear of the poor prospects we face. The rising cost of education and growing student loan debt will leave us drowning in debt for most of our lives. We won’t be able to afford houses, and will be forced to delay starting families. Additionally, we will find ourselves in an oversaturated job market. Even with professional degrees, many of us will have a hard time finding work.

I gather he hasn’t spoken to anyone attending University of Phoenix.

This election is about jobs and money. We need a candidate who will help us start a career after we graduate. We need a candidate who will address stagnant wages and youth unemployment.

Two words: Magic beans. Nice iPhone, John.

Ryan Duffy, a junior at Boston College, is deeply concerned about climate change.

China produced 8.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2012, followed by the United States with 5.3 billion. We not only have a responsibility to act, but with the largest economy in the world, the means to act. In 2016, voters should acknowledge that this is the defining story of our time and elect a candidate devoted to forging a responsible path.

So war with China it is.

Ricky Wells, a senior at Oklahoma, wants us to take better care of our veterans, which is a very thoughtful concern, but rarely on anyone’s top ten list except for vets and their family’s. Syracuse law student Ana Lucia Urizar doesn’t want to have to pay back her student loans. Senior Hannah Oh, from Claremont McKenna College, wants to win the war on terrorism.

Whether America will quietly play along in this new game or boldly force our way to victory is up to our next commander in chief; let’s just hope we don’t shoot and miss.

University of Kentucky senior Mekha McGuire has “lost confidence in our justice system.”

I am terrified of the police. The high number of black women who have died at the hands of police officers — including at least six individuals this year — is the most critical issue a candidate can take up.

What is most important to me, in this next election, is that the candidates address racist state violence and articulate critical steps for criminal justice reform that make me believe I will survive a traffic stop without being harmed.

Just black women?  So black men don’t matter? Non-cops don’t matter. Just black women.

All of this brings a couple of thoughts to mind. As expected, the concerns of these students far surpasses the concerns of most Americans, which ends where the TV clicker begins.

Let’s face it, people neither know nor care much about politics, which is well represented by our voting numbers. In 2012, the turnout of Americans eligible to vote in a presidential election was 54.9%. In other countries, people are willing to die for the right to vote. Here, we can’t be bothered to get out of our recliner. Pathetic.

However, each student’s essay revealed one consistent thing: they’re single issue voters. They have something they care about, and will vote for whoever gives them what they want on that single issue.

Which makes them pretty much like everyone else. It’s not they don’t have opinions on other matters. I’m sure they do. But when it comes time to vote, one issue wins and the rest be damned. So if a candidate’s positions on 20 important issues aligned with a students, but the two did not agree with the student’s first priority, would the student vote for the candidate?

18 thoughts on “What College Kids Care About: Election Edition

      1. Mort

        I’m reminded of a comedy video from I want to say the 2004 election that basically told the young to not vote.

  1. Peter Orlowicz

    This seems like a fault with the forum and the prompt more than anything. College students who might have submitted an essay starting “There are many issues I care about, and here are five of the most important ones to me” probably never got past the editors. Smart college students, on the other hand, are likely to be very good at writing to the question they’re given, rather than to a better question they weren’t asked.

    1. SHG Post author

      That may well be, depending on how the “assignment” was phrased. The question posed at the forum is open ended, but that doesn’t mean they were asked to state the “most important” issue. But if that’s the case, the editors of Room for Debate have been dishonest with us, asking one question and presenting another. Do you think they would be so flagrantly dishonest?

      1. Peter Orlowicz


        From the Room for Debate page: “Room for Debate asked college students: What is the most important issue to you in the 2016 presidential election? ”

        Misleading headline, maybe, given the actual question?

        1. SHG Post author

          Good point. The disconnect between the headline and question may be confusing, but the question should prevail.

          That raises a slightly different question: if someone asked me that was the “most important” issue, I doubt I would be capable of answering.

          1. Patrick Maupin

            The most important issue is that you and the press and twitter are going to turn my essay and all other discourse on this subject into a series of tiny sound-bites.

            1. SHG Post author

              While true, it’s not disingenuous. Each essay focused on one issue (or, in some cases, a tiny slice of any issue), so it’s not like sound-bites distort the message too much.

  2. Boffin

    Foolish trash. By selecting respondents you can make a group appear to believe whatever you want. Just as easily I could find a set of students that make them look like health nuts, or rabid fascists, or committed religious.

    The article tells much more about the proclivities of the author and the editors of the Times, along with what they think their audience would like to hear. And since it fits with your preconceived notion of the youts as lazy, ignorant, undisciplined pansies then no further though is necessary. Truthiness.

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s a good point, which is why it’s acknowledged in the post:

      While it’s unclear, and unlikely, that the seven students answering are representative of anyone or anything…

      Protip: It’s fine to be harshly critical, but read first so as not to end up being the blithering idiot.

  3. mb

    Shorter version: I want a President who knows lots of obscure facts and statistics that relate to my personal sympathies because 1) it gives me the chance to look smugly at the other side during debates when their guy doesn’t know what our side is talking about 2) somebody needs to punish all these people who care about things I don’t care about, and 3) as long as someone shares my factual conclusions about an issue, I’m certain that means they will draw the same conclusions about policy as I do and that leveraging the full power of the executive branch of the federal government is always a good thing.

    1. SHG Post author

      Shorter version: I want a president who will do exactly what I want, and only what I want, and what I want is what I want.

      But then, who doesn’t?

      1. mb

        Reading their submissions, you would almost think that none of them had consulted article 2 of the constitution prior to writing.

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