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Oct 04 2016
by Diana Pope

College Students Share What Political Issues Matter the Most to Them

By Diana Pope - Oct 04 2016
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If you walk through a major city like Philadelphia or New York in the coming weeks, you'll see many adults walking by with clipboards asking college students if they're registered to vote. It's no wonder — Millennials are becoming one of the most politically engaged generations in history. According to a recent study, Millennials (ages 18-34) remain the largest generational block of actual voters. When Millennials register to vote, they have incredibly high voter turnout rates. 

The State of Our Nation Youth Media Event, in which high school and college students talked about issues most pressing to them, was held on Tuesday, September 12 in Washington D.C. The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans surveys the 14-23 demographic every four years, finding five major talking points about views regarding the presidential election. The survey revealed that America's youth is optimistic for the future, the economy is still recovering from the 2008 recession, the importance of technology is only increasing, education is to be an essential part of success, and finally, America's youth considers hard work to be a result of endurance, not luck. Other important issues at the conference included diversity in life and the workplace, emphasizing the importance of LBGTQ+ rights in the workplace and military. To see the full findings of the survey, visit the report here. Four of the students below - Ahmari Benton, Allison Talker, Nathan Santos and Jorden Favors - attended the conference, hosted by the Association, as Horatio Alger Scholars.

Fresh U interviewed college students from the media event and beyond, asking them what issue mattered the most to them and why this issue should be the most important one in this election. These are their opinions:

Ahmari Benton, Class of 2019 at Howard University 

I feel that education is one of the most important issues as far as primary education like elementary school, middle school and high school. I come from a city that is home to one of the worst public school districts in the nation, and it’s very evident … I was grateful enough I went to a charter school for elementary and middle school [and that] my experience was very different from those around me. And it just saddens me that people are dealt a hand that puts them behind so early in life.

Allison Talker, Class of 2019 at Columbia University

I would say equality, well, rather racial and economic inequality, and ways to solve and address these issues. I think the tension between law enforcement and the public shows that racial issues are at the forefront. In addition, the rising costs of living in cities and gentrification also highlight economic inequality in society, as people are being pushed out of their communities. People are pushing back against this... A lot of protests and discussions are focused on these issues. It is concerning that workplace discrimination still occurs and there is an acknowledgment of a glass ceiling. These are all crucial issues to address. 

Nathan Santos, Class of 2020 at Columbia University

[I think] The major themes of the past few weeks and the past year centered around inequality [and] the tension between different racial and demographic groups in general [are important to address]. Especially after the incident that happened in Charlotte, we see time and time again that there's certainly discontent between different ethnic and racial groups and minorities whether it's Hispanic or African American. [There need to be] official responses from the government or municipal authority ... to see why this injustice continues to happen time and time again. If we're specifically talking about youth - I think this is something I actually covered in the panel discussion for Horatio Alger - I feel that the youth is disconnected from systems for change within legal measures because right now I think the cliche is that youth like to rebel ... riot ... criticize things that happen within society but they don't have a proper method or way of communicating with [public officials]. 

Sophia*, Class of 2020 at Bryn Mawr College

"Campaign financing and corruption are important in this election because politicians are being manipulated by corporations leading to poor voting choices."

Jorden Favors, Class of 2019 at Howard University

 I feel like the issue that is most important for my generation and me is financial stability and job security. So, as we go into this election I know from the [State Of Our Nation Youth Media Event] the youth’s biggest thing was financial stability because we see college costs are increasing every year with outstanding prices. And the demography of the country is changing so minorities are increasing and low-income demographics are increasing, so financial stability and the student debt are very important. 

Priyanka*, Class of 2017 at Bryn Mawr College

"Foreign policy should be the most important issue because this country should be more open to what the world needs, especially with humanitarian needs."

Dennis Williams, Class of 2019 at New York University

Honestly, all the issues being discussed in the campaign are very important to me, but college affordability is something that is really only talked about by one of the two candidates, and it should be taken more seriously by everyone. We have all these amazing plans for people to go out and do amazing things, and it's horrible that some people can't get these opportunities simply because they can't afford to learn how to get there. 

Jack Gilewicz, Class of 2020 at University of North Carolina

Racial equality is the most important issue to me in this election because I feel that the current state of institutionalized racism is the worst offense of the United States today. Such a fundamental concept of our country is equality for all, and yet somehow we still haven't achieved nearly enough. 

Joseph Zapinski, Class of 2019 at University of Nebraska- Lincoln

I would say climate change is a huge thing for me because its 100% real and we don't need a president who's [going to] veto anything that could help turn the environment around. I'd say this issue matters to me a lot because climate change is something that affects all of us now and in the near future, it's something everyone is dealing with...

Connor Doberstein, Class of 2019 at Bryn Mawr College

As part of the world community, climate change and environmental protection need to have more support and care. I feel like it's important that a candidate is acknowledging that environmental protection is an issue that needs to be fixed. 

Like mentioned before, certain political topics are more important to college students than other demographics in this election cycle. In particular, Millennials are concerned with the economy, especially with college debt and housing affordability. As they graduate and take on the burden of student loans, Millennials are less likely to be homeowners than previous generations, and yearn to find politicians who care about easing the high cost of mortgages. LGBTQ+ and other minority rights are also at the forefront of the campaign due to the devastating shootings in Orlando and Charleston, which showed examples of rampant discrimination of minorities in America.

Hopefully, Millennials will become known for their passion and vigor for discussing political issues. As the election approaches, this generation should make their opinions heard so this country can make important strides towards change. 

Reporting supplemented by Karly Matthews.

*Last name not provided by source.

Lead Image Credit: Opposition News via Flickr Creative Commons

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Diana Pope - University of Tennessee Knoxville

Diana is a political science major who also enjoys journalism, history, and philosophy. She loves writing, researching, and debating about politics. In her free time, she enjoys Grey's anatomy marathons and reading detective fiction.

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