Election 2016: The issues behind Vanderbilt students’ votes

National election polls are everywhere. Fresh polling data tracks the shifting status of our candidates on a constant everyday basis. These election polls can be useful informational tools, providing a big picture look of the national or state-specific political landscape. But when it comes to Vanderbilt, how does the campus electorate compare with these national polls? It turns out, Vanderbilt students’ issues of importance aren’t too far off from national trends. The Hustler conducted polls of our own to understand just this. In a poll measuring the election forecast for student voters on campus, a sample of 465 students participated. Here are the results.

Vanderbilt leans heavily Democratic this election cycle, with a 58.7 percent majority planning to vote Clinton this November. The prevailing campus opinion leans left despite Vanderbilt’s home in the typically Republican-voting state of Tennessee, as well as its ample student representation from red states. Just like the rest of Nashville, Vanderbilt is a blue dot in a red state. Dr. John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt, was not surprised when informed of these results. He expressed that the results reflect a greater tendency of young and first-time voters to gravitate towards Democratic candidates. Trump sailed behind at 7.7 percent of the Vanderbilt electorate. Third-party Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, ranked higher than Trump in the poll at 9.9 percent. But many have yet to make a decision with 17.4 percent of respondents identified as undecided voters; a group almost equal to Republican and Libertarian support combined.

Here is a demographic breakdown to guide your reading of the numbers.

The poll covered students from nearly the whole continental U.S., with a healthy mix of participants from both red and blue states. The states with the largest representation were Illinois and California, typically blue states, balanced out by Tennessee, Georgia and Texas, which are historically red. Among these highly represented states were also swing states such as Florida and Ohio. Every other state remained under 5 percent of participants in this poll.

The issues

In a second part of the survey, The Hustler asked Vanderbilt students which issues hold the greatest influence over their presidential votes, asking respondents to tell us the top three issues that most influence their vote. 335 of the survey respondents answered these questions. 

Across the board, foreign policy was the most influential issue, with over 100 participants (41.4 percent) expressing their concerns. Other issues of major concern for many students were health care, women’s health rights, immigration, and the economy/debt. Typical issues influencing the millennial vote, such as student debt/cost of education, climate change and social justice issues fell to the wayside. Although students share many of the same salient issues, positions on these issues are diverse. Vanderbilt students don’t always agree and their views lie all over the political spectrum.

The Hustler followed up with four respondents to find out why these issues meant the most to them.  


Foreign Policy

Du is among those worried about foreign policy. He most fears the prospect of nuclear war and the overspending and allocation of military finance, which Trump criticized in the presidential debates.

“There needs to be a general sensibility and calmness,” Du said. “I’m looking to Clinton to offer a plan to deal with North Korea and partner with our allies. They’ve conducted five nuclear tests and it’s very, very scary in terms of extinction and the possibility of war. and how we’re going to partner with China in order to contain North Korea.”

Russell also ranked foreign policy first on his list of concerns, as he is immediately concerned with policy pertaining to the Middle East. He delved deep on the the recent Brexit vote this summer and the threat of Russia.

“Europe is in a stage in which it’s redefining itself,” Russell said.“The question of what is the European Union. How we present and interact with these leaders of the EU can affect that. European stability is so important for global stability.”

Health Care

Du, after mentioning foreign policy, rated health care as his next issue of concern.

“The Affordable Care Act hasn’t worked so well,” said Du. “It either has to be repealed or tweaked. I’m interested in seeing how the Republican platform will handle this and how Hillary, who has once proposed these single payer systems, would implement this healthcare bill through Congress, even in the face of likely a Republican majority in The House and Senate.”

Zimmerman, however, vocalized stronger feelings against Obamacare.

“Free and federal healthcare is great in theory, but simply doesn’t work,” said Zimmerman. “It will turn our hospitals and ERs into nightmares, doctors and insurance companies will either hurt or lose their jobs/businesses, etc.”


Zimmerman aligns most solidly with her party’s economic platform in favor of income tax reform. She says that economic policies are a huge factor in her presidential vote.

“I don’t want to continue to stay on the path that Obama has placed us on with a trillion dollar deficit and an increasingly amount of college students graduating without being able to find jobs,” Zimmerman said. “Raising taxes is a solution to Hillary, while Trump realizes the damaging impact it has on the middle class.”The economy stands as a less salient issue to Russell, however, he understood the widespread anxiety for economic issues and the direct impact it has on many Americans.

“I think people feel most strongly about that because it hits home,” Russell said. “You look at your paycheck, you look at what you provide for your family. That defines the quality of your life.”

Immigration Reform

For Russell, though, immigration is number two on his list. As a Floridian, Russell sees immigration as a central issue to his community back home and his upbringing as an American.

“I would very much like to see immigration reform,” Russell said. “The legal process is so difficult and needs to be simplified so that people can come in. Yes, there are security concerns, but it’s more about a shift in our mentality. We’re talking about building a wall and shutting people out. But, we are a country built on immigrants. That’s what makes America, what I think, the greatest country on earth. We give people that fresh start. And if we stop, then what are we. That’s how I define myself as an American.”

Women’s Health

Not all Americans and not all Vanderbilt students are voting this election. The election forecast indicated that 4.9 percent of surveyed students are not planning to vote in the presidential election. Sophomore, Bri Grantham, decided to abstain, as well. Nevertheless, she still cares very much about politics, most actively women’s health rights and policies on abortion.

“I am most passionate about women’s rights and the right to choose,” said Grantham. “I think women’s right to choose is personal. I don’t think that our judicial system should be able to dictate what a woman can do with her body.”

Although polls numbers demonstrated a generally high interest in women’s health rights, the focus for women isn’t only tilted towards pro-choice. Views on this issue lie on a spectrum and can hold a strong influence on presidential support.

“I will never support a candidate who believes abortion is okay,” said Zimmerman. “Hillary not only supports abortion but also supports Planned Parenthood, which was exposed to have done terrible and illegal abortions, yet still receives funding.”

But do the issues even matter?

Despite the anxiety over foreign policy and the national debt, these issues doesn’t seem to be the main topics of political conversations on campus. According to some students, this has to do with the big personalities of history’s two most polarizing and unlikeable candidates.

“Jokes,” Du said when describing these conversations. “Funny things that Trump has said and whether Hillary can capitalize on that. This election season has been more or less pure entertainment,” Du said before the second presidential debate watch party, held at Commons Center. “It has just been a reality TV show with Trump in it and Hillary doing a cameo… Hopefully the candidates between all their jibbering and jabbering will offer a real plan and a real perspective.”

Freshman Jacob Vest shared in Du’s frustrations before the presidential debate. He expressed his hopes to hear more on the carbon tax, wage subsidy and international trade. However, despite Vest’s political interest in hard hitting issues, along with many other Vanderbilt students, he gave an honest assessment about the reality of the campaign and the national political narrative.

“Character is so much more glaring this election,” said Vest. “It’s not as much about issues in this election. The President doesn’t really have that much power over policy and so when the character is so bad, it actually is important.”

Despite the vast support for Hillary, for some, the tone of that vote seems to be less than enthusiastic among Vanderbilt voters. Like much of the United States, students can feel backed into a wall with their candidate options.

Freshman Leah Fields, a student in the political science course U.S. Elections, offered every four years, feels that many people around her–friends, family and especially classmates–are voting the greater of two evils.

“100 percent this ideology exists on campus,” she said. “In politics class when people have spoken, they have repeated the sentiment of ‘Oh, I don’t like either candidate.’”

Fields also felt that character rather than issues tends to carry the political conversation.

“I haven’t had that many conversations actually,” she said. “Just yesterday for the first time, it did come up a little bit. We didn’t really talk about policies. We mentioned the scandals of each candidate.”

The scandals of both candidates seem to upstage the issues in all national, campus-wide and individual conversations. The scandals are well-known and prominent here at home, but are also showcased primely on the international stage.

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