How are U-M students voting this election? A survey of issues most important to students

Monday, October 26, 2020 - 11:01pm

Students vote in the 2018 midterm elections in Ann Arbor.

Students vote in the 2018 midterm elections in Ann Arbor. Buy this photo
Annie Klusendorf/Daily

The Michigan Daily conducted an anonymous survey of more than 1,900 students to understand the political leanings of the student body at the University of Michigan and what issues are most important to them.

The following data was collected from Oct. 16 to Oct. 21. All questions were optional and no personal information about the participants was stored. Results show 96.4% of student respondents said they are planning to vote, with 45.2% being first time voters. 

Where are students located this semester?

With more than 78% of classes being held online prior to the announcement of the stay-in-place order last week, 85.8% of respondents said they are located in Ann Arbor this semester. Respondents also broke down to 60.7% in-state students, 37.9% out-of-state and 1.5% international students.

Where are students registered to vote?


Majority of students are registered to vote in the state of Michigan, with 33.3% registered to vote in Ann Arbor and 47.7% registered in another Michigan district.  Of the respondents, 15.7% were registered in another state, 0.6% were not registered to vote and 2.8% were not eligible to vote in this election.

How are students planning on voting?

Of the students surveyed, 54.1% said they have already voted early. Out of those students, 40.4% voted through mail-in absentee ballots, 10.9% voted at either the University of Michigan Museum of Art or Ann Arbor Station 5 and 2.8% voted absentee at the Ann Arbor city clerk’s main office. 

The UMMA satellite location opened last month, and as of Oct. 13 more than 3,000 students have voted there, 2,600 of which also registering to vote.

Furthermore, 31.6% plan to vote absentee. Only 14.4% said they plan to vote in-person at the polls on election day. 

What is the political leaning of students?


The survey showed that 42.8% of student respondents identified as very liberal, about 33% who said they identified as ‘somewhat liberal,’ 7.7% said they were somewhat conservative and only 3.8% as very conservative. About 12.8% of respondents identified as moderate. 

Who are students planning to vote for?


Of the 1,846 responses to this question, 84.5% of respondents said they will vote for Joe Biden and 10.1% for Donald Trump.

How enthusiastic are students about voting?

About 25% of respondents said they are very enthusiastic about voting, while 39.3% are somewhat enthusiastic. About 14% were neutral, and the rest were either somewhat unenthusiastic or very enthusiastic.

What issue is the MOST important to students this election?


Environmental and racial justice issues were voted as the top election concerns by survey respondents, with both around 24%.

LSA junior Luke Dillingham has been a member of the Climate Action Movement on campus since freshman year. He said voting is just the minimum action students should take to get involved with climate change policy.

“These issues don’t end with just the election,” Dillingham said. “It’s not a productive conversation to say that people should just vote and that it’s the only strategy to produce change. You have to pressure these people to stand up for the right thing, regardless of which party they’re from. It’s just that this is easier to do when they (politicians) are from a certain party.”

Dillingham also said local elections are important in creating change, especially when most of the government is not very representative. He mentioned A2Zero, the City of Ann Arbor’s initiative to go completely carbon neutral by 2030.

“Cities also have ways to do really impactful work on a smaller scale,” Dillingham said. “So, for example, the A2Zero plan is very promising. And that is sort of a demonstration of some of the importance of local politics.”

LSA senior Sarah Jeng said racial justice issues have been at the top of her mind throughout this election season, adding it is important for voters to be thinking about these matters while casting their ballots. She said it may be harder for majority communities to see racial inequality issues in America since they are not directly impacted by them.

“In the past few years, I think there’s been this whole idea that racism maybe hasn’t ended completely, but it’s gotten a lot better,” Jeng said. “I feel like under the surface, there’s still a lot going on, it’s just being called something different. Racism adapts and evolves with the times, and just because it doesn’t necessarily look how it looked 40 years ago, that doesn’t mean it’s completely disappeared.”

Jeng said she has watched all of the debates. She recalled a specific moment during the vice presidential debate in which Vice President Mike Pence said he did not believe implicit biases existed.

“I think that’s really harmful when you’re talking about race,” Jeng said. “Everyone has implicit biases, and that automatically impacts people and communities of color.”

What other issues were important to students in this election?

Other top priorities included health care (16.2%) and the economy (13.8%).

Business sophomore Prisha Grover said immigration policy and how refugees are treated is an issue that she keeps in mind while voting. She also said voting gives you access to help those who do not have a say in this election.

“Immigration is very important to me so policies like how we house people who are refugees who are trying to immigrate to different countries for a better life (are important),” Grover said. “Sometimes when you’re voting, you’re voting for those who don’t have the right to vote, whether it is international students or those who aren’t legal citizens.”

LSA freshman Nick Martens interned for a Michigan District 6 House congressional race the past summer. He said he is concerned about LGBTQ+ rights and income inequality.

“As a gay person, I think it’s really important that we have a president who doesn’t just say he’s pro-LGBT but actually works towards policies that are dismantling systemic oppression rather than nominating supreme court justices that want to ruin my life,” Martens said. “In terms of income inequality, Republican ideology of tax cuts equals economic growth, I think has really hurt American workers over the last 40 years, and they still keep doing it to us.”

How would students rate the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The survey indicated 76.6% of student respondents said the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic has been very bad, with another 10% saying it was somewhat bad. Around 5% said it was neutral, with another 5% saying it was somewhat good. Just 2.7% said it was very good. 

How will the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic influence the student vote?

A majority of students (51.5%) said it is very likely that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic will influence their vote with another 18.6% saying it was somewhat likely.

Martens doesn’t believe that Trump’s handling of the pandemic will influence the vote since there are not very many swing voters.

“I mean, I’m sure there are some people that are actual swing voters but, in general, just not super common among college students,” Martens said. “I don’t know if (the pandemic) shifted a lot of people from voting for Trump to not voting for Trump.”

How will out-of-state and international student voting in Michigan affect the election?

Of the 751 student respondents who are out of state or international students, 428 are registered to vote in Ann Arbor or another Michigan district. 378 out of these 428 said they are voting or planning on voting for Biden, which amounts to 88%.

Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at varshakv@umich.edu


The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.