With the presidential election coming up, it should go without saying that one of the biggest trending topics involves declaring a preferred candidate. For local young people, the response is usually one of two things: a denial of Donald Trump as a viable candidate and the discussion of Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party. By and large, young voters (those ages 18 to 24, but primarily high school seniors), use the discussion of Trump, Clinton, and Sanders to critique Clinton and Trump while upholding Sanders.
Young voters will either make or break this election. In 2008, young voters represented 18% of all voters. In 2012, young voters represented 19%. At nearly 20%, millennials are influential for this year’s election with power as a swing group. For Obama’s winning 2008 election, Indiana and North Carolina were blue due to young voters. Especially with a decrease in voter turnout, capturing the youth is vital.
According to many young voters here in Champaign-Urbana, Trump’s candidacy is laughable. His controversial statements exemplify bigoted values that contradict most millennials’ progressive mindset. Students want change, not stagnation, and Trump’s offensive nature and lack of details creates problematic policies that only perpetuate fear.
“I am not voting for Trump because he is a bigoted fascist that is using his campaign to spread his hateful and racist beliefs,” said Mahalia Booth-Hodges, Urbana High School senior.
Urbana High School
“Trump seems to use a lot of anger in his appeal to voters, and I don't think anger really resonates with young people. Today's high schoolers have grown up in a society in which diversity is normal and natural. Many of them just don't relate to being angry at immigrants, people of color, the LGBT community, or whomever. Today's kids are much more accepting of differences and someone like Trump probably just don't make sense to most of them,” said Mark Foley, Urbana High School history teacher.
Despite his prominence in the ever-existing media cycle and endless election coverage, Trump is automatically eliminated from most local students’ list of favored candidates due to his crass statements, something that inspires hope against his rising national poll numbers.
The lack of overwhelming support for the Republican candidates that permeates the youth in Champaign-Urbana shifts the majority of political focus to the Democratic Party. Though Clinton is the leading Democratic candidate, she is seemingly irrelevant to young voters in C-U. Her cautious approach isn’t attractive enough to students who want someone fierce and refreshing.
“I don't think that [students] are supporting Clinton because she seems to be more about finessing the status quo rather than making any substantive change,” said Daniel Bechtel, UHS math teacher. “She reeks of the political machine and it is hard to get behind that. It seems crazy to me that this is the case as she is the first truly viable female candidate for president, and that in and of itself breaks from the norm, but the way that she has handled this campaign is very safe and very polished in a way that is hard for young people to trust.”
“Many students aren't supporting Hillary Clinton because they are disappointed in the current system and want to experiment with something new by bringing a D.C. outsider into the White House,” Jeffrey Davis, UHS history teacher.
Similar to their statements about Trump, students label her as fake, but not due to her platform. Instead, they see her appeals to millennials as forced. Who could forget her nae nae and cringe-worthy Snapchat story?
“I think students aren’t supporting Hillary Clinton because she’s trying too hard to impress and persuade. I think she doesn’t share [much] interest in our generation and our problems,” said Claire Washburn, CHS senior.
Despite being the oldest presidential candidate at 74, Bernie Sanders has resonated with the youth. His anti-establishment platform such as free college tuition, higher minimum wage, and combating racial issues speaks to what is most meaningful to young voters.
“After looking at what Bernie stands for, I feel it would be wrong to not vote for him,” said Sylvia Maehr, UHS senior.
“He is unique in the sense that he focuses not only on making our country better as a whole, but also on our generation’s needs” said Washburn.
“I decided on Bernie right away because I didn't feel a ploy from him; he wasn't playing a game,” said Olivia Prudhomme, CHS senior. “I am voting for Bernie Sanders because to me he is the only candidate who cares about America as a whole, including all groups who have built this country up, but have gotten barely anything in return. He isn't giving into the political game as much as the other candidates are because he isn't there for the publicity; he is there because he cares and has been working toward helping people his whole life.”
“Bernie wants to be president for us,” said Cler.
Especially in primarily liberal C-U, millennials are assumed Democrats with interests in ground-breaking social and political reform. This “we only need Bernie” feeling is prominent with young Sanders supporters as they see that his policies target and expand those desired reforms.
At Urbana High School, there is even a Bernie Sanders Club, despite the fact that most high school students can’t vote. In fact, it was started by a student who ineligible to vote in the hopes that it could become a needed resource for other students. The club meets every Wednesday to discuss and delegate volunteering opportunities such as registering voters, canvassing, and phonebanking.
“The Bernie Sanders Club started because, as a young person involved in the campaign, I saw people my age who believe in and support everything Sanders stands for, but had no outlet for their enthusiasm,” said Ruth Sussman, UHS junior and creator of the Bernie Sanders Club.
Though their preferred candidates are overshadowed by Trump, there is a small minority of students that support Republicans.
“I’m voting for Ben Carson because I agree with him on his stances of medical care issues, education, oil and energy, gun control, and immigration,” said Callie Miller, CHS senior.
“I’m voting for Marco Rubio because as the son of immigrants, I believe he presents realistic and insightful solutions to the immigration issues our country is dealing with. He also realizes that our deficit spending is a serious issue that needs to be resolved so that the people of my generation aren’t handed an even bigger financial mess. I also think that foreign policy is an area that the Obama Administration has struggled with, and Marco’s views on ISIS and the conflicts in the Middle East represent the leadership role the US needs to take. He is also pro-life, as many conservatives are, which is very important to me,” said Rachel Stickels, Centennial High School senior.
They also offered insight as to why students are mainly supporting Sanders.
“[Sanders] really pushes ideas that would benefit students and young adults, which I think many find appealing,” said Stickels.
“There are a good amount of millennials voting for Bernie Sanders because it’s the cool thing to do,” said Miller. “Many of them couldn’t tell you very much about his campaign.”
Young voters in Champaign-Urbana simply want change, even at the high school level, and that might be the most important response of all. If Bernie can capitalize on youth movements like what’s happening in C-U, he will almost certainly prove that he is a national force to be reckoned with.
Top photo of Champaign Centennial High School from Google.