According to a survey of 435 University of Michigan undergraduate students conducted by The Daily, 92 percent of survey respondents registered to vote in Michigan plan to vote in the gubernatorial election on Tuesday. Among students who intend to vote, 69 percent plan to vote for Gretchen Whitmer, 14 percent plan to vote for Bill Schuette, 15 percent are unsure and 1 percent plan to vote for another candidate.
According to Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement 2017 Campus Report, only 14.3 percent of eligible University of Michigan students voted in the 2014 midterm election, as compared with 18.1 percent of students from all institutions nationwide. Political Science professor Nicholas Valentino studies political campaigns and is currently teaching a class about mass media and political behavior. Given generally low student voter turnout rates, Valentino doubts a 92 percent student voter participation rate is feasible. However, given the increased mobility and emotional energy preceding this midterm election, he said he would not be surprised if student voting participation increased significantly.
“This is a very emotionally intense election compared to most off-year elections,” Valentino said. “It’s much more salient and it’s much more emotionally energized, and in particular the energy is coming from this emotion of anger and outrage.”
Though many students express interest in voting, the barriers they face can explain a drop-off in their turnout rates. Campus organizers, like Public Policy junior Katie Kelly, communications director of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, have been mobilizing the past several months to tackle these obstacles.
“As college students, it is very difficult to vote in the state of Michigan,” Kelly said. “We are unable to vote absentee our first time voting which hurts first-time voters who want to cast their ballot in their hometown, and without automatic voter registration, some students may not know how to even register to vote. A lack of information about political candidates is also a deterrent to vote for some students.”
Since a lack of information can keep students from the polls, College Democrats and the University’s chapter of College Republicans have been inviting advocacy groups, faculty members and candidates to speak to students at their meetings. Among students polled by The Daily, 27 percent are extremely or very familiar with the Michigan gubernatorial candidates, 41 percent are moderately familiar, 17 percent are slightly familiar and 14 percent are not familiar at all.
“We have gotten our members in front of the candidates themselves,” College Republicans President Dylan Berger said. “Through College Republicans, our members have met almost all of the key Republican candidates running in Michigan this cycle. There’s no better way to learn about a candidate than to meet them.”
Though the majority of polled students plan to vote for Whitmer on Tuesday, Abdul El-Sayed, Democratic runner-up in the gubernatorial primary, received the highest percentage of polled students’ votes on Aug 7. Among all surveyed students, 30.8 percent voted for El-Sayed, 10.3 percent voted for Whitmer and 7.6 percent voted for Schuette in the primaries. Forty-seven percent of polled students did not vote in the primaries. Though some speculate that Bernie Sanders supporters’ lack of support for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election may have cost her the race, Valentino said it is unlikely that a similar effect could occur with El-Sayed voters on Tuesday.
“This kind of phenomenon could play itself out here in Michigan in this gubernatorial race,” Valentino said. “But I don’t anticipate that the effect will be large enough to swing the election because I think she (Whitmer) is even further ahead in most of the polling I’ve seen than Clinton was in the polls in Michigan.”
While polled students expressed interest in a variety of issues, the highest percentage of students, 19.8 percent, said environmental issues are most important to them in this gubernatorial race. Following close behind were women’s rights and health care, at 18.2 and 16.6 percent respectively. These three issues, often Democratic talking points, are some of the reasons Kelly cited why students should vote for Democrats.
“Students on this campus care about so many issues,” Kelly said. “Healthcare, the environment, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, etc. These are all issues that hit many students close to home. Democratic candidates are best equipped to make positive change in these realms in this upcoming election.”
Among Republicans on the Michigan ballot, Berger said he is most excited for Schuette and U.S. Senate candidate John James, expressing support for both of their economic and national defense policies.
“If elected governor, Schuette will bring Michigan’s economy forward with continued low taxes and regulations,” Berger said. “His opponent would ruin Michigan’s economy by going back to the failed policies of the lost decade. Students must vote for Schuette in order to secure a strong economy after graduation.”
While voters will turn out to vote partly based on the gubernatorial candidates themselves, Valentino said the candidates’ stances on President Donald Trump will also drive people to the polls.
“I think the gubernatorial race and its stark mapping onto the pro-Trump, anti-Trump rhetoric … You have a very pro-Trump candidate in Schuette who has associated himself with the president, and in Whitmer, who has said ‘I stand for everything that is opposed to Trump,’” Valentino said. “So it becomes sort of a national referendum, that gubernatorial race, and I think that’s also going to increase turnout because people want to make a statement about how they either approve or disapprove of Trump in their vote.”