Like the rest of the nation, students at the State University of New York at New Paltz are watching the presidential election with intense interest, but that may not necessarily translate into active participation on November 8.
Many students at the small, public liberal arts college in the Hudson Valley say they are still undecided, will sit out the election, are planning to vote for a third party candidate or will vote for Clinton out of fear that Trump could win.
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore visited SUNY New Paltz on September 20 to get youth actively involved in the election. Moore, the creator of films such as “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Sicko” and “Bowling for Columbine,” urged more than 500 students, faculty and local residents to help defeat Donald Trump next month.
Moore, who is concerned about youth voter turnout in the upcoming election, urged the students of SUNY New Paltz to register to vote regardless of their views on the candidates. Though Moore hopes young voters will vote for Hillary, he understands students’ distrust of the political system.
“I don’t blame you, I don’t criticize you, I don’t want you to give up your hate,” Moore said. “I just want you to help save this country”.
Moore said he understands why young people might be apathetic or conflicted about voting in this particular election.
“When you’re 18-years-old, you can live through four years of Trump,” he said. “But when you’re 65, you’re thinking, ‘This is how it’s all going to end.’ ”
While women, African Americans and young people make up 77 percent of the population, only half will vote, Moore predicts. “We’re going to have the lowest turnout ever [this election],” Moore said, “and that will help Trump.”
A recent survey of the campus community by journalism students at SUNY New Paltz reveals the mixed emotions young people have about the upcoming election. This will be the first opportunity for many college students to vote in a presidential election, but there is a general lack of excitement for both Hillary Clinton and Trump.
Many of the students interviewed for this article are cognizant of the political strategies of the two major party candidates, especially the need to motivate young voters.
“Hillary definitely goes for young voters, middle- to upper-class voters, and minority voters,” said Travis Bederka, a journalism major from Rockland County. “As for Trump, his supporters are older, poorer blue-collar white people, and also the very rich.”
On the other hand, journalism and economics double major Gillian Hamilton of Albany wishes third-party candidates were given more of a chance to be viable candidates.
“I don’t like Hillary or Trump,” she explained. “Both are corrupt and cannot fix our [nation’s] issues.”
“Younger people aren’t really sure or they just aren’t as educated as they should be,” said student Carlyne Hazer, a sociology major from the Syracuse area. “It’s just so stressful and so terrifying I just want to turn the other cheek and maybe do something more fun.”
A senior citizen who is auditing classes at SUNY New Paltz stressed the importance of the youth vote, saying not voting or voting third party is like a vote for Trump.
“Trump is so dangerous that any vote not for Clinton will help Trump,” said Ross Rosenberg, of Newburgh, who is studying music. “I don’t love Clinton, but given the circumstances I think it’s vital that she becomes president. A vote for [Libertarian candidate] Gary Johnson is also a vote for Trump.”
Paul Edlund, another senior citizen auditing classes, also worries that many students will be voting third party next month.
“Clinton is capable but not inspirational,” he said. “The youth are disappointed and may try a protest vote.” Edlund, of New Paltz, believes young people should vote for Clinton because, “the alternative is dangerous and impulsive.”
The students who have made up their minds to vote for Clinton say that, like Moore, they recognize how close this race may be in the final weeks.
“I will do just about anything to stop Donald Trump,” said Jack Savidge, an undecided major from Dutchess County. “I’m not the biggest Hillary fan, but she isn’t as bad as people say she is.”
While many of the students surveyed on the New Paltz campus say they intend to vote for third party candidates such as Johnson, or Green Party candidate Jill Stein, others say there is too much at stake in 2016.
“I’m not a huge fan of Hillary, but it is pointless to vote for the Green Party,” said Cassidy Clancy, a biology major from Long Island. “I was originally for [Clinton primary challenger] Bernie [Sanders], but I am a Democrat and will vote for Clinton.”
A September 26 poll of likely voters nationwide found a very tight race leading up to the first presidential debate.
Data collected by the independent Quinnipiac University Poll showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump in popularity by just 1 percentage point, well within the margin of error.
According to the poll, released on the morning of the first presidential debate, Clinton leads Trump 44 to 43 percent, with 8 percent going to Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and 2 percent for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, according to the poll of 1115 likely voters.
In a head-to-head matchup, without the third party candidates, Clinton leads Trump 47 to 46 percentage points. The margin of error for the poll is 2.9 percentage points.
“She has been ahead for a while now, so it is surprising to see the race that close,” said Terry Decker, a New Paltz employee from Kingston, when asked about the recent Quinnipiac poll. “Although I guess Trump is out there, if you know what I mean, and people can relate to him because of that.”
The first presidential debate — which was watched by more than 84 million viewers, according to Nielson ratings — helped some New Paltz students come closer to settling on a candidate.
Although many students didn’t watch the debate due to school or work obligations — or because they had no interest — the students who did watch agree that Clinton was the clear winner.
“The only thing that Trump did was attack Hillary, he didn’t explain his points or how he would do anything,” said Gabriella Martinez, a psychology major from Long Island. “Honestly Hillary didn’t do that great either, but she did better than Trump.”
The school’s Political Science Department hosted a debate-watch event with a forum to discuss the important issues in the upcoming election. Other students watched the debate with their friends and roommates.
“Of course I watched the debate…. It’s my American duty,” said Julie Healy, a senior biology student from Long Island. However like many students, Healy is still undecided.
Other students were watching for how the candidates handled themselves.
“Watching their responses to questions was good,” said student Maggie Naso, an accounting major from Katonah. “It was good to see how they’d react under fire.”
“Hillary did what she needed to do, she didn’t let Trump get the better of her, and she didn’t lose her base,” said Michael Quintman of Long Island, who is studying history and political science.
There will be two more presidential debates before the November election — on October 9 in St. Louis and Oct. 19 in Las Vegas — though it is unclear whether young voters will be motivated to start paying attention, or if they will stay home on November 8.
“I didn’t watch it,” said business major Suzanne Wong of Western New York, referring to the first debate at Hofstra University. “I didn’t really see the point in watching it because there isn’t anything Trump could say to convince me to vote for him.”
In New York, the voter registration deadline is October 14, both by mail and in person.
This article was reported and written by New Paltz journalism students Gabbie Albrecht, Matt Apuzzo, Shala Franciosa, Gayle Gammon, Eugene Ghong, Gwynn Hartmann, Elayna Hines, Rachel Honan, Danielle Kruchowy, Vivian Panayotou, Malachi Price, Jessie Russell, Casey Silvestri, Christopher Sumano, Vincenzo Tarricone, and Jeffrey Trotter.
Student Kaleb Smith served as assistant editor.
The project was supervised by Professor James Gormley