Young voters around the country have faced unprecedented circumstances in voting during a historic election. As many students continue their lives from behind a computer screen, Suffolk University has continued to offer election week events for students across the country to discuss and engage in the 2020 presidential election. Suffolk University is home to a variety of political clubs, including the Suffolk Democrats and Suffolk Republicans. These clubs hosted a roundtable discussion and analysis of the election that was open to all students and staff before Joe Biden was named President-Elect. The conversation began with a statement from the president of each club and was then opened to the audience. Although the discussion went relatively smoothly and respectfully, there were some issues that seemed to stick out for the young voters and these issues seem to impact voters on a national scale as well which has continued to increase division in the country.
The discussion began with a focus on the economic policies and many of the students who leaned towards the right and/or supported Donald Trump felt that their decision was related to the economy in some way, closing businesses, COVID-19 response, etc. In national polls, Trump only leads assurance in economic policy in comparison to other categories such as race relations, pandemic response, and foreign policy. The middle class income has seen an increase under the Trump Administration as well as the GDP, however, the Administration suffered during the pandemic, far worse than in the 2009 economic recession under Obama. The economy affects every young voter and their family in a different way. This can encourage partisanship amongst youth voters in the nation that will continue to be exacerbated if they feel that democratic administrations are not meeting their desires for the economy, despite the fact that, historically, democratic administrations have done better for the economy.
Another point that arose during this conversation was a belief among some Trump supporters that they are seeing a decline in national pride and “Americanism” from the democratic voters. The mood began to shift in this conversation because the idea of “Americanism” means something different to everyone. In a study in 2019, 63% of Republicans felt that the Democrats were unpatriotic, while only 23% of Democrats said the same for Republicans. These beliefs are issues that are not only a threat to the increasing political divide of the country, but can push voters towards certain candidates who emphasize national pride or “Americanism” in the way that Trump has in order to reach a crowd that feels strongly about these qualities in people running the nation and those who are part of it. In terms of international superiority, 19% of younger voters (age 18-29) believed that other countries were superior to the U.S. and the percentage increases with the democrats in this age range to 47%. Depending on how one defines “Americanism” it is clear that the students agree with other young voters on a national scale on the issue.
As for Biden supporters, the students’ reasons for voting seemed to be geared towards the racial relation issues in the country as well as a dislike for Trump. Many students believed that was important to elect a candidate who was going to address and attempt to reform systems that were causing these issues. Racial relations were among the most important issues to young voters in this election with protests against police violence being a deciding issue in youth votes, however the percentages vary among races. Amongst young Black voters, 45% said that this was a deciding factor in their vote followed by Latino youth at 28%, Asian youth at 21%, and White youth with the lowest at 18%. The percentages were much higher about concern of the issue when characterized as a serious issue rather than a key factor in voting. It seems as though on a national scale, youth voters believed that voting would help to resolve this issue, however, a handful of the students in the group felt that federal government elections are not going to solve the problem as it is the responsibilities or local governments. The geographical locations of protests and police brutality incidents are spread throughout the country, leading many to believe that the federal government must step in to do what they can. The issue of race relations and police brutality are ones that seemed to be fairly partisan in this group of students which is also evident on a national level.
The conversation seemed to become increasingly more intense as the issues of Americanism and social justice came into play. It is important to note the unique factors of this election due to the pandemic and behavior from Trump that has not fit into the historical norms of the presidency. Some of the students felt more passionately about the economy and racial issues because of Trump’s rhetoric and he has acted or spoken in a way that they’ve responded well. On the other hand, the democratic students seemed to attach more to issues and progression of the nation past Trump and socially rather than Joe Biden himself. The division of the nation was immensely apparent in the conversation had by the students and also on a national scale. This division has heightened stress about the future of the country and democracy, but, regardless of division, it is clear that these voters only want what they feel is best for this country. The problem is, that means drastically different things for those on each side of the aisle.
Works Cited “Trump draws more confidence on economy than on coronavirus or race.” Pew Research Center, Washington D.C. (30 Jun. 2020). https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2020/06/30/publics-mood-turns-grim-trump-trails-biden-on-most-personal-traits-major-issues/pp_06-30-20_public-mood-trump-00-3/.  Long, Heather. “The Trump vs. Obama Economy – in 16 charts.” The Washington Post, 5 Sep. 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/09/05/trump-obama-economy/.  United States, Joint Economic Committee. The Economy Under Democratic vs. Republican Presidents. June 2016. https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/309cc8e1-b971-45c6-ab52-29ffb1da9bf5/jec-fact-sheet—the-economy-under-democratic-vs.-republican-presidents-june-2016.pdf.  “Partisan Antipathy: More Intense, More Personal.” Pew Research Center, Washington D.C. (10 Oct. 2019). https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2019/10/10/partisan-antipathy-more-intense-more-personal/.  “Young Voters Concerned about Racism and Police Violence.” Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, Tufts Tisch College, 11 Nov. 2020, https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/election-week-2020#young-voters-concerned-about-racism-and-police-violence.