Racial inequality becomes top election issue for college students: Poll

Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers and Melissa Venable, BestColleges’ advisor, discuss the top issues motivating college students to show up at the polls.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: College students are getting motivated to vote by coronavirus and issues around racial equality. That's all according to a new poll from Best Colleges. So let's talk the poll's findings with Melissa Venable, Best Colleges advisor. Melissa, thank you so much for joining us today for this conversation.

As I just mentioned, I know that racial equity, COVID-19 are some of the top issues for college voters. I'm wondering what else is top-of-mind for this voting bloc. And how have those voting priorities changed for them, either throughout the years or even just the past couple of months?

MELISSA VENABLE: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. We surveyed 1,002 students ages 18-23 recently. And the top two issues overall are, as you mentioned, COVID-19 and social justice, racial inequality kind of issues. Also in the top are the economy, jobs. College students, as it may be no surprise, are concerned about the future and employment. And health care came in at number four.

KRISTIN MYERS: So we've seen some of these early voting numbers across a few key states for the voting age bloc of 18-30 which, of course, would encompass those college-aged voters. They've left enormously, just over the last four years in swing states like Michigan and Florida, in some instances tripling and quadrupling. Do you think that the voter turnout for the college voters is going to break records this year? Everyone is saying that voter turnout will be record-breaking in 2020.

MELISSA VENABLE: Absolutely. Everyone is saying that, and that's what the students that participated in our survey also said. Over 80% were registered at the time of our survey and more than 70% said that they were planning to vote. If that turns out, that will be astronomically higher than 2016, when I think 43% of this age group turned out for the presidential election.

KRISTIN MYERS: So younger people, though, they typically don't vote-- especially not when you compare them to their older counterparts. Do you think that this might be the year of turnaround going forward that that habit is going to change? And do you think the politicians are now going to have to start responding to the needs of college students? Who, frankly, didn't really vote before so politicians were allowed to largely ignore them.

MELISSA VENABLE: A number of interesting pieces here. We certainly are seeing a lot of first-time voters in this age group. They're registered because they can for the first time and vote for the presidential election. We're seeing that over 60% of them feel that they are affiliated with one of the two major political parties and that they're going to turn out.

So we're hoping that this is a generation that's been known, from a much younger age, as being politically active in their community and engaged in things around civics. So we're hoping that this means that they're going to be out there. And I think it absolutely means something for the candidates. We asked an open-ended question on this survey-- what is your biggest motivation to vote? And more than 60% of these over 1,000 students actually listed a specific name of a presidential candidate.

So they're paying attention. They seem to be very engaged. They've said that the issues, the things happening in this year-- this crazy year of 2020-- have changed their priorities as far as voting is concerned. So it seems that they're there and they're ready to go out and have their voice heard.

KRISTIN MYERS: So to that point-- and I'm very glad that you mentioned it-- that 60% of those college voters mentioned one candidate. I was just reading here that, when it came to Donald Trump, only about 6% of them were positive. What do you think that's going to be telling us about the election? Essentially, who are college voters going to be voting for? Is it all about Joe Biden?

MELISSA VENABLE: I don't think so. We did not ask specifically who you're voting for. We did want to know more about what motivates them, and what party they maybe feel affiliation with. The comments-- those open-ended comments were all over the place, quite honestly. For, against, for both, against both-- lots of mixed messages in terms of the issues and where they stand. So I think there's a lot of, still, uncertainty about some of the issues.

But certainly, the candidates in this year, an election that seems to be particularly polarizing, has reached the students.

KRISTIN MYERS: I'm wondering what else you can tell us from the poll. I know that we see some of these top priorities. But there were so many interesting things here that came out from the poll. Hoping you can share some of the other results.

MELISSA VENABLE: Sure. There were some differences in the issues that were important by party affiliation. So, for example, the top three issues for Republican college students were the economy, COVID-19 and education. For Democratic students, the top issues were racial inequality, COVID-19-- that was second for both of these groups-- and then climate change and the environment was third.

The biggest disparity there is with racial inequality. I think it was 50-something percent of Democratic students said that was the number one issue and 17% of Republican students said that was the number one issue. So that's where we're seeing a really big gap.

KRISTIN MYERS: Melissa, I want to ask yo and I only have about a minute left with you-- but I want to quickly ask you about, where are these folks, where are college voters, really being reached? Obviously, we've seen the campaigns try to advertise on Twitter, on Snapchat, on Facebook, on Instagram, a lot of social media. So what did the results tell you, out of this poll, that college voters are receiving their information from?

MELISSA VENABLE: Social media is huge with this age group. 49% said that social media posts have a high impact-- the highest impact on how they'll vote. And more than a third-- 36% of these students-- said that social media was their main source of information about the election.