Opinion: Young voters, important issues in 2016 election

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(Illustration by Savannah Thaemert | The Collegian)

For college students, it can sometimes be difficult to keep tabs on the fluctuating list of candidates and fully understand each of their varying opinions on issues. With all that students have to balance on a day-to-day basis, November seems so far away that spending more than a few minutes thinking about it is almost impossible.

A PBS article titled “Young Voters Rank Education and Economy as Top Priorities” explained that one of the main concerns among college-aged voters is whether or not the economy will support their ability to find a job in their field of study. More liberal students also rank the environment at the top of their priorities. Although this article was published four years ago, the topics it encompasses still hold true in the current election.

So, which candidates would best align with these values held by a majority of college students? Before getting to that question, it would be beneficial to look at the current lineup of contenders.

Candidates for this year’s upcoming presidential election have had a rough couple of weeks. Voters have seen a substantial decline in options when considering who they will cast their ballots for in November, since many of the candidates have suspended their campaigns or dropped out of the race completely.

Following poor caucus results in Iowa last week, Democratic candidate and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley suspended his campaign, leaving two Democrats in the running: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Numbers are dwindling for the Republicans too. Following the New Hampshire primaries, both New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Texas native Carly Fiorina dropped out of the presidential race.

They add to a long line of Republican dropouts, leaving only seven Republicans: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, John Kasich and Jim Gilmore.

Shocking Americans across the country, Trump took the lead in the New Hampshire primaries. Pledging to “make America great again,” Trump has proven that he has what it takes to get votes, but does he have what it takes to be appeal to college kids?

Setting Trump’s firm, distasteful social policies aside, he has not said much about education other than his false criticism of Cruz for supporting Common Core in public schools.

Trump has, however, laid out an over-simplified plan for bolstering the economy — another concern for college-goers — through tax reform.

On his official campaign website, Trump said he would provide tax relief for the middle class in the forms of completely omitting income tax for the single people earning less than $25,000 per year. This would result in the growth of the economy by creating new jobs and “making America globally-competitive again” — as if the country doesn’t already have the largest, most productive economy in the world, twice the size of China’s, according to The Young Turks’ video “Bernie Sanders: Free College For All.”

Trump’s No. 1 Republican adversary, Cruz, contrary to Trump’s remarks, also opposes Common Core. Cruz has said he would completely “get rid of the U.S. Department of Education” to shrink the size of the federal government, according to an Inside Higher Ed article by Michael Stratford titled “Ted Cruz and Higher Ed.”

According to the article, Cruz said, “economic growth is critical to young people” in repaying these loans, and Americans must “return to an environment where small businesses are growing” to ensure that job opportunities are available. Cruz hasn’t shown any specific proposals that relate to higher education either.

The Democrats have a drastically different approach to the issues at hand, focusing on educational access as well as the prosperity of the environment, in contrast to the aforementioned Republican candidates who both believe climate change is an elaborate hoax, despite insurmountable scientific evidence.

Clinton has pledged again and again to “make quality education available to every child — in every ZIP code — in America,” according to her campaign site. She said she wants to make sure all teachers receive the training they need in order to make their students thrive.

Clinton also said she would put forth a higher education plan that would spend “$350 billion over 10 years” in an effort to bring down the price of college, according to a Forbes article titled “Where they stand: Democratic presidential candidates on student loans.”

She plans to give grants to states for public colleges, and both public and private institutions that enroll low-income students. Clinton’s overall goal is to create a less-expensive route for students to receive a college education.

It’s an honorable proposal, but opponents argue that the proposed federal grants would not have the desired effect, and the beneficiaries of the plan would largely be those who would already be able to afford a college education. In addition, they argue that this excess money would allow for less cost-conscious decisions by college administrations, effectively hurting the taxpayer.


The candidate that has overwhelmingly had the largest support from young Democrats is, of course, Sanders. His campaign has continually stressed the importance of higher education, proposing the “College for All Act.”

Under this plan, the federal government would be responsible for 67 percent of college tuition costs, and the remaining 33 percent would be left up to the states, according to Sanders’ campaign website, feelthebern.org.

The plan would also drastically decrease interest rates on current loans by almost 50 percent, significantly helping those who are currently enrolled and those who are still paying their loans decades after graduation.

This seems like an impossible idea and it has certainly been framed as such by Sanders’ opponents, but he has clearly outlined how he plans to cover these costs.

In what has been nicknamed the “Robin Hood” approach, Sanders is proposing legislation to cover these costs by “a 0.5 percent speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds and other stock trades, as well as a 0.1 percent fee on bonds and a 0.005 percent fee charged on derivatives,” according to Sanders’ campaign website.

He argues that these fees would completely cover Americans’ tuition.

Sanders said a properly educated American population will “likely lead to higher incomes and a higher GDP,” ensuring America’s prosperity in the long term.

Sanders and Clinton supporters alike can rest easy knowing their candidate considers the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence on climate change and plans to present some similar proposals to that of the Obama administration on the global crisis that so many Republicans deny.

Although all of the numbers can be overwhelming and trash talk on social media can distract college voters from the real issues at hand, I challenge you to think about your future and the role each candidate will play in it if they are elected.

So, when heading to the voting booth this November, it will be important for college students to understand the extent to which their nominee of choice will actually plan to address the issues facing education, the economy and the environment.

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