The Top 5 Political Issues for College Students

By Danielle Wirsansky on November 12, 2013

Any college student who was on social media last November witnessed the barrage of Facebook posts and tweets from fellow students expressing their opinions on hot-button election issues or passive-aggressively stating their disgust for social media candour.

Yet despite the fact that students seemed to have a whole bunch to say during the election season, research conducted by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) revealed that only 45% of young people between 18 and 29 voted in 2012, a decrease from 51% in 2008, according to a Forbes article.

Despite low levels of political engagement at the voting booth, students continue to voice opinions on the political issues that concern them beyond election days, hoping to be heard by their peers and any elected official who might be watching social media trends.

So what is it that students care about? OnlineColleges.net came up with a list of 10 issues college students should care about, but how does the list match up with the real concerns of students? Here are the top five issues from the perspective of FSU and TCC students.

5. LGBTQ equality

Only 14 states to date have legalized gay marriage, with at least ten more to follow suit by 2016. Tucker Simonton, an FSU student, feels equality in this and other areas is a priority.

“I guess the most important issues to me would be the rights of minority groups, not just racial or ethnic minorities, but also those in the LGBT+ community, religious minorities, etc.,” he said.

Campus Pride, a national listing of LGBT-friendly colleges and universities, ranks the most LGBT-friendly each year. FSU is not on the list, but approximately 200 colleges out of 390 rank four or five stars in friendliness to the LGBT community. Equality certainly matters to college students.

4. Healthcare

It is no question that the Affordable Care Act has completely polarized the country on the idea of a government-mandated healthcare system, but for Samantha Markey, a student at Tallahassee Community College, the ACA has polarized her own beliefs.

“I haven’t had insurance in years and although that has been terrible at times (and I have been very Democratic in the past because of the liberal issues that concerned me) I am starting to look at the Republican standpoints more than I ever have and reevaluating them when it comes to financial issues for our country,” she said. “I am struggling with the health insurance; for the first time I don’t know where I stand on it and I think that is frightening for me! I am a passionate person and I don’t know how to feel about this.”

Young people can remain on their parents’ health insurance policy until they’re 26, but what happens next? Markey looks at the issue from a choice perspective.

“I think people should be able to have a choice and the fact that this plan has such high standards for private insurance and people are getting dropped left and right when it doesn’t make the cut, is terrible,” she said. “People have worked very hard to get where they are so they can have that insurance. Is the government trying to help by making sure health insurance standards are high so people can get the coverage they need? Or are they trying to regulate the healthcare system and therefore make people go through the government for everything concerning their health, thereby becoming a stronger central government and involving themselves too much in our capitalistic economy and in our private lives?”

For Markey the question is simply one more or less government control; she is less concerned with how healthcare laws affect her personally as how they affect the country and its overall direction.

“In a perfect world I would say I am for it, I am for a strong central government that does what is best for the people and makes sure that everyone is taken care of,” she said. “But in reality the government can be greedy and corrupt and I am not sure we can trust them with this extra power. I can’t be sure that they will do what is best for the people and not what is best for them.”

3. Abortion

Women’s reproductive rights have been at the forefront of political conversations for awhile now, from Arizona’s ban on abortion procedures past 20 weeks to Democratic Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’s 13-hour filibuster protesting a similar law.

Many who oppose abortion do so on religious or moral grounds, like FSU student Stephen Terry.

“I feel abortion is murder – that is simply a moral issue of mine,” he said.

Other students, like Samantha Markey, are concerned with social issues like abortion but put more weight on economic issues.

“For a long time I was only really interested in social issues, equality in marriage, the right for a woman to have an abortion, the continuous glass ceiling that women face when it comes to careers and the salary differences (men are still being paid more for the same positions which boggles my mind) and in the past few years I’ve started to become aware of the other side of politics I had previously ignored, the economy began to matter to me, the way people are taxed and right now the issues surrounding a government-mandated health insurance policy are hitting home for me,” she said.

2. Tuition and student loans

As of December 31, 2012, collective student loan debt amounted to $966 billion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. FSU student George Camp considers this the most important political issue facing college students, and for good reason.

“Over $1,000,000,000,000 in collective loans with U.S. Congress holding the key to the interest rates and local legislators deciding how much state schools can charge seems like a pretty relevant political issue to me at nearly every level of government,” he said.

President Obama listened to some students’ cries in this area by merging guaranteed and direct loans, bringing down interest rates. It was also suggested that no more than 10 percent of borrowers’ disposable income could go toward student loan payments – this was supposed to go into effect in 2012, but an article from 2013 revealed this as part of Obama’s 2014 budget.

1. Jobs

None of the four students polled mentioned jobs as an important political issue, though Online Colleges reports that a 2010 CIRCLE study indicated voters between 18 and 29 consider improving the economy a top priority issue.

Perhaps these students are ignorant of what lies ahead for them, or they simply look outside of themselves for the most important political issues.

Danielle Wirsansky graduated from FSU with a BA in Theatre and a BA in Creative Writing with a minor in History. She is a second year graduate student in FSU's History department where she serves as the Communications Officer for the History Graduate Student Association and President of White Mouse Theatre Productions. She studied abroad in London, England for the Spring 2015 semester at FSU's study center for the Playwriting Program and interned for the English National Theatre of Israel in Summer of 2015. Her first musical, City of Light, opened as part of FSU's New Horizons Festival in Spring of 2016. She has also won the MRCE and URCAA Research grants from FSU. In the past, she served as the Marketing Director for the FSU Student Theatre Association, the intern for the Holocaust Education Resource Council, and the research assistant of Prof. Nathan Stoltzfus. She has previously written for Context Florida (Contributing Writer), USA Today College (Contributing Writer), Sheroes of History (Contributing Blogger), No(le)Reservations (Contributing Blogger), Female, Reloaded (Arts/Entertainment Editor) , I Want a Buzz Magazine (intern), Mandarin Newsline (youth arts update columnist), Distink Designs (Guest blogger), whatscheaper.com (associate editor), escapewizard.com (associate editor), Spark TLH (Contributor), the Tallahassee Democrat (contributor), Elan Literary Magazine (Head of Marketing), and the Improviser Newspaper (Opinions Editor).

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