Last semester at Kansas State, the primary election season influenced and unraveled activism in front of the student union. Chalkings of slogans and political messages filled campus with the tension of what would unfold. After the democratic nominee was chosen, a global pandemic ushered in a different dimension of political events.
The nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor earlier this year set the tone for the political context of 2020. Now, with the presidential election set between democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, students have a whirlwind of opinions and expectations. Nathan Bothwell, senior in political science, sees this election as something unique.
“The crisis is making it seem like it’s way tenser because [the election] is literally happening during a natural disaster,” Bothwell said. “In 2016, even though it was a really contested and polarized election, I think there was still some semblance of normalcy to it.”
Hundreds of reasons to vote this year are present, but the method of delivering your ballot is different due to the global pandemic. Bothwell said COVID-19 has impacted Americans’ motivation to make the effort to vote. Student leader Victor Banda, board member of the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and president of the Board of Latino Organizations (BOLO), sees this election as a matter beyond politics.
“With everything going on politically and with students supporting Donald Trump, it feels like we have to keep an eye for things going on,” he said. “We always want to be supportive of everyone. We held panels to hopefully change minds but it’s kind of hard.”
As a result of experiencing the 2016 election, Banda is aware of the political environment on campus, and that of the country as a whole.
“When I’m around people now, they try to avoid politics just because you don’t know who supports what,” he said. “A lot of people have a fear that it could mess up friendships… I don’t really see or hear much about politics [on campus] unless it’s Trump supporters saying ‘go back to your country’ or writing things on the sidewalks.”
Lily Colburn, junior in political science and student government association (SGA) member, also feels it’s difficult to talk about politics with her friends.
“It’s really overwhelming for me to think about the 2020 outcome and what that could mean for me personally, and friends and different issues I care about,” she said.
Colburn is chair of the governmental relations committee for the SGA. She engages with student organizations, and encourages students to register to vote. For Colburn, the 2020 election is one that is unlike those before.
“2020 is very different because we’re in such a different cultural political context,” Colburn said. “I for one in 2016 couldn’t imagine anyone except for Hillary Clinton winning. I remember election day and the day after very clearly in my mind… 2020 has proven to [have] a lot of uncertainty. Nothing is certain in any realm of our lives and especially politics.”
She believes this election is more about Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump and less about each party’s issue policies.
“This election is more about candidates and who you want to choose as a person and not so much the issues,” Colburn said. “We as young people know we want to talk about climate change, we want to talk about social values and I don’t think any of the two candidates are really speaking to those issues that are relevant to young people.”
Within her political science classes, Colburn focuses on the policy level issues of presidential candidates. She mentioned that she doesn’t know much about each candidate’s platform because they don’t discuss it enough publicly.
Two students in K-State’s young democratic socialists of America also weighed in on the election. Seniors Noah Rude and Brandon York, see this election as important, but held under inadequate circumstances.
“There’s little to be enthusiastic about Biden except that he’s not Trump,” Rude said.
He believes there are plenty of important issues regarding young people that should be impacting this election.
“There are definitely many issues facing students that would have real, meaningful change in their material condition; [such as] affordable housing, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, a living wave and cancelling student debt.”
York hopes the political atmosphere pushes people further into politics.
“I hope with everything that has happened this year with the pandemic that people start to see the importance of being active in the political system,” York said. “I feel this is especially true for local politics where our voices matter the most.”
The political opinions of students at K-State, based on the prevalent activism witnessed in the primaries are split. The opinion on who will win a student vote is tied to how young people will vote in general throughout the country.
“I assume that a majority of students will probably vote for Joe Biden,” Colburn said. “Manhattan is usually a ‘purple’ place overall. I think that’s so ironic because our color is purple but we are just a really mixed campus. If we look at the statistics of people under 30, a majority are going for Biden.”
Bothwell shared this sentiment, with his own analytical insight.
“I think younger people tend to lean liberal,” Bothwell said. “That’s who the majority of young people will end up voting for in my opinion. I would be very curious to see, since not every student votes, what populations of students do vote.”
In contrast, Banda thinks K-State students will side with Trump.
“I feel like it’s split down the middle or more than half will vote for Trump.” he said.
Banda also shared his opinion on who he thinks will win the general election and how it will affect K-State students, particularly those who are Latino.
“If Joe Biden wins, a lot of students in the Latino community will be relieved,” Banda said. “As KSU students, we would have someone that will try to help us out … it’ll be like a weight lifted off our chest. With Trump supporters, I expect there still to be a lot of hate and them not accepting the result of the election.”
With little time to go until the election, the trust in poll results is another interesting factor in how students perceive the election. In 2016, most polls predicted a Hillary Clinton victory that didn’t happen.
“As we get closer [to the election] I do trust polling,” Colburn said. “I think it has gotten a lot better since 2016. At this point in the election with so many differences, and state polling and electoral college predictions, I think Joe Biden has pulled ahead.”
Bothwell also believes it will be Joe Biden who becomes the forty sixth president.
“Based on current polling I think Joe Biden is going to win the election,” Bothwell said. “One of the biggest factors that helps incumbents win is, from my political science knowledge, the status of the economy and I think that had the federal COVID response be a lot stronger than it was, I still think Trump would have had a stronger chance… I think that this election will be a referendum on the US government’s coronavirus response.”
Bothwell also believes that states like Arizona, Texas, Florida, could swing toward the left now. For him, the country is looking for a change in circumstances, not a continuation of the current governance.
As of now, most polls have Biden leading. A potential for errors and surprise, like in the last election cycle, remains very possible. The final answer may or may not come on Nov. 3. The status of mail-in ballots in certain crucial swing states such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where votes are accepted if received after Tuesday could impact who is ultimately inaugurated in January.