University student civic preferences differ from national voting averages

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - 11:25pm

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, candidates from both major political parties visited the University of Michigan and other locations across the state leading up to the primaries and general election to mobilize millennial voters. While this key electorate has had low voter participation rates historically, University students have deviated from that trend in this presidential election.

Over the past few months, The Michigan Daily polled a sample of University students about their voting habits and priorities in the election, in effect creating a profile of student voters on campus.

In terms of overall preference in the election, the most recent poll, conducted on Nov. 6, upheld the ongoing trend that most University student identified as a Democrat. In the Nov. 6 poll, 54 percent of respondents said their beliefs most aligned with the Democratic Party. In contrast, 19 percent identified with the Republican Party, similar to earlier polls as well.

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Over the past few weeks of polling, those numbers have shifted. The data has shown support for the Democratic Party has grown marginally among students, from 51 percent on Sept. 30 to 55 percent as of Nov. 6. For Republican supporters, alignment with the party has also grown at a narrow rate over this time, rising from 16 percent to 19 percent.

In comparison to millennials on a national level, University students identify less strongly with the Republican Party, instead spreading their support amongst third parties or identifying as independents. Pew Research found that voters aged 18 to 33 tilt Democratic 51 percent of the time and Republican 35 percent of the time.

As well, University students are also more civically engaged during elections than national data indicates the average student is. In particular for the 2016 election, student and residential turnout in Ann Arbor was exceptionally high compared to the national 2016 average.

During the Democratic primary, turnout in Washtenaw County was reported at almost 40 percent, playing a role in Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.)’s upset victory over now-eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. That turnout rate was more than triple the national average Democratic turnout, at 14.4 percent.

For the general election, 83 percent of respondents in the most recent Daily polling said that they plan to vote in the upcoming election, though the Daily cannot confirm whether they did so. In comparison, 57.5 percent of registered voters participated in the 2012 election.

The 2016 election overall differs from previous ones as it features two of the most unpopular candidates in election history. According to an aggregate of polls from RealClearPolitics reports that Clinton’s unfavorability is at 54.4 percent, and GOP candidate Donald Trump’s unfavorability is at 58.5 percent. In the Daily’s survey, 66.7 percent of University students gave Clinton a rating ranging from neutral to very favorable opinion. In contrast, 87 percent of students ranked Trump as either a high dislike or dislike.

LSA senior Lauren Gallagher, president of Students for Hillary, wrote in an email interview Monday that she believes this election shows the importance of millennial voters and the power of their voices.

“Student turnout is a concern in any election, compared to other generational blocks millennial turnout is typically extremely low, but with that being said we’ve seen in past elections how powerful the student voice can be,” Gallagher wrote. “The youth vote can really turn the tables in an election.”

For LSA junior Enrique Zalamea, president of College Republicans, Trump’s victory in the election was a welcome surprise after defeating the polling odds on both a national level and in spite of his lack of support among millennials at the University.

“We are incredibly blessed to see how the American people have recognized that Trump is the candidate to truly represent the American people,” Zalamea said. “We cannot wait to help continue to bridge the gap between millennials and politics under a Trump presidency.”