Election Issues Important to Students on VT’s Campus


By Danielle Polo
Unigo Campus Rep at Virginia Tech
Oct. 29, 2008

Candidates in every presidential election interpret solutions to the problems Americans face on a daily basis, and this year is no different. In the past, young voters’ opinions on what the most pressing issues are have been overlooked due to their low voter turnout rates. The current state of the country and amplified importance of this year’s election have students paying more attention to national issues, what the candidates are saying and how all of it will affect their lives and futures. While students’ interests and concerns in various topics are wide ranged, particular issues are weighing more heavily on their minds than others.

Probably the biggest concern of Virginia Tech students is the economy — something that reflects the opinions of the entire nation. In an informal, anonymous survey done at Virginia Tech, 78 percent of respondents chose the economy as the most pressing concern of the election among other issues such as foreign policy, the war in Iraq and various social issues.

Senior Rami Sabri said that the most pressing issue was, “Clearly the economic crisis in America,” adding, “but neither of the candidates has the magic plan to fix it.”

In the same informal survey, when asked for their reasoning on selecting the economic crisis over other issues, students offered opinions such as “This is the underlying issue that drives other issues,” “Because every person in the United States has to deal with this problem directly on a daily basis,” and “Because our economy is the worst it has been in decades and something has to be done.”

The importance of the economy should come as no surprise, especially with the amount of media attention given to America’s current financial crisis as well as the controversial bailout plan. A struggling economy means less jobs, and students feel this pressure while attempting to land desired jobs and begin their lives in the real world. Starting life after college raises more specific issues — saving for the future, buying a car, finding somewhere to live and paying off student loans — all of which depends on how the economy is doing. It’s enough to make anyone nervous, but especially students on the brink of graduating..

While the economy is dominating everyone’s, it is not the only thing being considered in the days leading up to the election. A video of panelists debating different aspects of the election, made available on the online version of The Collegiate Times (the campus run newspaper), gives insight into how students feel and encourages further discussion through commenting.

Other significant issues indicated by Virginia Tech students who participated in the survey include the war in Iraq, healthcare, homeland security, foreign policy, the environment and energy, social issues including abortion and gay rights, and the characteristics of the candidates themselves. Their justifications of these choices ranged from when discussing healthcare, “Because people are dying because of our terrible health system we have now. We need to try universal healthcare or something close to it because we are the only developed country without it and the system we have currently clearly isn’t working;” on foreign policy, “Our current relations with the rest of the world is not very strong. We are losing respect of very important allies, which not only will hurt our future economic ties, but also our future as a superpower. We haven’t been a nation of the world as much as we have been a nation for ourselves;” and, when thinking about taxes, “because my parents are going to get taxed out of their asses if Obama wins because they are ‘upper middle/wealthy’ apparently.”

After considering her answer for a pressing issue, senior Sarah Rothe said, “The whole issue with Iraq. It’s a big issue because it deals with a lot of money is we’re sending more troops over. And then there’s the issue of how we’re going to cease conflict and remove troops at the same time.”

A recent CNN.com article explored how all of these issues are important to students all over the nation, not just one thing or the other. Clearly, Virginia Tech students have strong opinions on all different kinds of problems the nation is facing in the coming years.

Finally, the candidates themselves are being scrutinized by students. The possibility of the first African American president or the first female vice president has sparked a different kind of interest in students, making them more interested and involved with campaign events both on campus and off.

Many traveled to James Madison University, a two-hour trip, when Barack Obama came to speak in front of the 8,300 people able to fit into the University’s Convocation Center on October 28 and even more went to nearby Roanoke on October 17 to see him address issues, helping fill the Roanoke Civic Center to capacity.

Women on campus have had a larger than usual turnout of involvement in the election, with 60 percent of women representing the Virginia Tech College Republicans , perhaps due to Sarah Palin being on the Republican ticket. The media tends to depict candidates on their personal attributes over their ideological stances, and students are being influenced to do the same, whether it’s based on the charisma and freshness of Obama and his ideas for change, Palin’s controversial personal life, or McCain’s old age and ties to President Bush. When asked what his biggest concern of this election was, senior Dan Burton simply said, “Who people vote for in the election is in large part a result of whether or not they favor Bush and his policies. There’s enough political polarization that people will vote for someone for no other reason than hate of the other guy.”

With everything going on in the nation today — the constant negativity and criticisms of the current administration — there is no doubt that there is a lot to take into account when deciding who to vote for come Election Day. Virginia Tech students take all kinds of issues into consideration, but with real life looming in the future (closer for some than others), the current economic crisis is understandably the dominating concern.

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