An estimated 46 million eligible voters in this year’s election are between 18 and 29 years old – part of the Millennial generation. Will those young voters sway the election? What issues do young people feel are important? What role do they think government should play in their lives? KQED and three other public media organizations on the West Coast are exploring those questions in a series called “Voices of Young Voters.” We fanned out to college campuses around the Bay Area to hear from those who are just coming of age politically.
Post also by Lillian Mongeau
Alyssa Lopez remembers the pink slips.
“My mom is currently a principal at an elementary school and my dad served on the school board back in my hometown so I just remember seeing a lot of budget cuts going on,” said Lopez, 20, a Modesto native who is now a student at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park. “A lot of great teachers that everybody loved were just getting cut from schools, pink slips, and I remember a lot of kids were just being like, ‘This sucks. I love that teacher.'”
The result, Lopez said, was that many of her classmates were scared away from pursuing careers in education. She said she now worries that there is a lack of good teachers and that students aren’t going to receive the education they need to be informed citizens.
Her concerns about education were among many voiced to KQED recently when we asked students at five Bay Area colleges about the issues that are important to them this election year. In a recent survey of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29, the nonpartisan think tank Generation Opportunity found that respondents considered a candidate’s position on issues and his record in office more important than charisma or likeability when it comes to choosing a president.
Here are four of the issues that came up most often in our conversations with college students.
1. Education. It probably comes as no surprise that college students in California are concerned about education. Some of their worries stem from the possibility that in November voters may reject Proposition 30, the governor’s proposed tax increases for education and public safety. This year’s state budget includes “trigger cuts” if the measure fails, with K-12 schools and community colleges possibly losing $5.35 billion and The University of California and California State University systems each potentially losing $250 million.
University of California, Berkeley, student Abhishek Arora said if he were in charge of the country, he’d be spending more money on schools.
“I would go firstly to fix public education. Instead of putting money into defense and prisons and stuff like that, just get money into public education and the betterment of education because that’s what makes people nowadays,” said Arora, 20. “Just focus on the next generation instead of just focusing on defense and criminals and stuff like that.”
But education funding isn’t the only schools-related issue worrying some college students. Tyler Carter, 20, of Ukiah, said he’s worried about the impact of changes to physical education in schools.
“I’ve gone back to my elementary school just to look in on PE classes and to show kids what physical education is in the future for their high school and college and stuff. And they have kids playing chess on the playground or playing checkers during their PE hours instead of doing rigorous activity,” said Carter, who’s a student at Sonoma State University. “They’re really sitting around and the number of obese children is skyrocketing.”
2. The Economy. Given the country’s struggles, it also may not be shocking that some college students are worried about the economy. But the depth of the concern may come as a surprise. The Generation Opportunity survey found that 64 percent of young people ages 18-29 believe the availability of more quality, full-time jobs upon graduation is more important than lower student loan interest rates.
San Jose State University Student Kahleim Giles echoed that sentiment.
“That’s the only thing I’m really worried about is having a job, and in our current market I really want to have a very intellectual job,” said Giles, 18, of Oakland. “I don’t want to just be behind McDonalds or janitorial work.”
Navia Mathew, 18, of Fremont, said she believes tax cuts are part of the solution to the country’s woes. A student at Ohlone College in Fremont, Mathew noted that she would be voting for Mitt Romney in November.
“I think that if we cut the taxes, our budget, we will knock down deficit spending and we’ll have a more balanced budget,” she said.
3. Foreign Policy. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been less of a campaign issue for the presidential candidates this year compared to 2008. However, they still worry Bay Area college students like Pete Dowdalls.
“I think a lot of focus has been diverted away from Afghanistan, away from Iraq. I don’t want to call them failed states, but this is an issue where we came in and we changed the game,” said Dowdalls, 27, a graduate student at San Francisco State University student from Walnut Creek. “I feel like I’m not advocating war or anything like that, but as far as nation building goes there needs to be a more concerted effort.”
But Ohlone College student Swahib Kaba, 18, said he feels the United States needs to be more cautious in its foreign policy.
“There’s countries like Iran, you know, with nuclear programs intact right now. And I feel like, you know, America’s somewhat egging them on a little bit,” said Kaba, 18, of Santa Clara. “I feel like we just need to be careful about who we mess with.”
4. Healthcare. “I think it’s very important that everyone should be able to have affordable healthcare to make sure that issues are taken care of without running the risk of losing your house because you got sick.” said Serena Organ, 18, a San Jose State University student from San Rafael. Her comments were echoed by other Bay Area college students.
“People go to the hospital and always have to be paying thousands and thousands of dollars just because they got checked up or taken in an ambulance, so I think that would be a big thing if government could help us out there,” said Gladis Covarrubias, 20, a San Jose State University student from Morgan Hill.
We asked several other students to share the issues they’re concerned about during our recent visits to Bay Area college campuses. You can hear more comments and share your thoughts on the coming election by clicking below.