Every four years, the Pew Research Center asks registered voters which issues are most important to them.
In 2016, voters gave a resounding answer: the economy. And while the economy remains the most important issue for voters in 2020, voters have changed the way they prioritze the remaining issues: health care, Supreme Court appointments and the COVID pandemic have skyrocketed up the list, while gun policy, terrorism and immigration have largely faded from view.
The Spectrum similarly asked UB students which issue is most important to them in its biennial political survey. The results are in: 17.6% of students said racial inequality is the most important issue to them; slightly fewer (16.1%) said health care; fewer yet (13.2%) said climate change. COVID (12.7%), economic inequality (12.2%), the economy (9.8%), immigration (2.4%), education (2%), the budget deficit (2%), and jobs (1.5%) rounded out the top-10.
The Spectrum also asked students to elaborate on their answers. Here’s a sampling of responses:
Suhana Monsalve, sophomore English major — Abortion
“Abortion is a prominent issue and a very important one to me. I believe it is a right not only to those who identify as women, but anyone who menstruates, including trans, non-binary people, etc. All of us have the right to our own bodies as well as a fair access to abortions. I see many Republicans justifying their desire to outlaw abortion through religion when we live in a secular country. I want to decrease the amount of abortions taking place, but the effective way of doing this is increasing access to birth control as well as sex education. I do not see our current president working on either of those, yet he pushes a strong pro-life agenda. His administration also pushed for a bill to allow adoption agencies to turn away gays who want to adopt, which is counterproductive with his pro-life stance, and discriminatory. With Justice Amy Coney Barrett being confirmed into the Supreme Court, having a 6-3 Republican supermajority, Roe v. Wade is on the chopping block. It is so crucial to vote for Joe Biden because I believe he would add Democratic justices to the court to even it out and protect the right of abortion.”
Jake Shornick, senior communications/public speaking major — America’s global standing
“On Nov. 3, we must vote in an election that will truly shape the image of this country for the next couple of decades at least. When we think about politics, we often forget the almost 200 other countries in the world who look at us. We are one of the dominating superpowers, but we’ve become a laughing stock to the rest of the world. Regardless of how they view us now, we as a country are often trendsetters. A perfect example of this is the widespread Black Lives Matter protests. Not only did we have protests in downtown Buffalo, throughout the state and country, but we saw massive protests around the world in England and other sovereign nations. If we want to set a good example for the rest of the world, we need to go out and vote. We need to prove that we still have our voices in government, and voting in this election will be the key to doing so. If we don’t, all those protests will have been carried out for absolutely nothing.”
Andrew Lauricella, junior electrical engineering major — COVID
“COVID is one of the most important issues to me in this upcoming election. The U.S.’s response to the pandemic thus far has been very poor. Being that it is such an immediate issue and is quite literally a matter of life and death for some people, it is imperative that we elect a leader who will provide fact-based directions to deal with this crisis, and help struggling families to ease the effects of this deadly virus.”
Ciara Burke, junior economics major — COVID
“This is the first presidential election I will be voting in, and I realize the responsibility I have been given. It is easy to feel powerless when facing national and global crises, but we actually do have a say in how our country works and operates. Voting matters and it is an opportunity to, if nothing else, acknowledge that we have a responsibility to make this a fair and equitable country for everyone. This election feels more personal than that, though. COVID has taken the lives of people I personally know and love. It destroyed entire neighborhoods and threatened the economic livelihoods of people I care about. I feel a personal obligation to elect someone who believes in science and acknowledges the toll this pandemic has had on Americans. Overall, this election is very important to me, and I personally believe the results could mean life or death for thousands of Americans.”
Max Schaffer, junior business administration major — Decay of social morality
“As a culture, I think the biggest challenge our nation currently faces is the general decay of social morality. This trend has been marked by: high and increasing divorce rates, high rates of infidelity, high and increasing rates of out-of-wedlock births and high and increasing rates of single parenthood. I suspect that our hypersexual culture plays a significant role in this problem. The advent of birth control was undoubtedly another major factor in the development of this issue: before it's invention the standard understanding between men and women was that a woman would generally only have sex with a man if he promised monogamy in the event of pregnancy. As more women began to utilize the pill, it became more common for sexual relationships to lack this general understanding. Since women (like men) have to compete with other women for sexual partners, it became beneficial for women to become more promiscuous without the promise of monogamy in the event of pregnancy.
“This is due to the fact that there is a strong causal relationship between a woman's level of promiscuity and a man's level of perceived attractiveness. I think the overall diminishment of this understanding is at least partially responsible for surges in single parenthood and infidelity rates. I'm not exactly sure what the solution is here, but I do know this increasingly sexualized culture is almost certainly detrimental to the health of our society. I think the effects of this problem can be most clearly seen in the issues of: high and increasing rates of mental illness, high and increasing rates of substance abuse, decreasing levels of happiness, and a general increase in the number of people who totally or partially lack a purpose in life. This issue is one that most people do not think about, mainly because it crosses partisan lines and addresses issues neither party would like the public to think about.”
Emma Jackson, junior English major — Discrimination and inequality
“Throughout the current election cycle, I have been most concerned with candidates’ attitudes toward the oppression of marginalized communities in the U.S. The issues of treatment of non-majority groups (POC, women, LGBTQ+, non-Christian religions, etc) in our society are intersectional, but far and away the most prominent social justice movement has become Black Lives Matter. For me, I would not consider voting for anyone who will not boldly and explicitly denounce the growth of white nationalism, racism in all forms, and systems in place that work to oppress and repress black people in America. To not support BLM is to encourage violence against the people it stands to protect, to forgive racial injustice, and to embolden domestic terrorism.”
Alex Smith, senior communication major — Economy
“I think what I’m worried most about going into the 2020 election is the economy and the route it will go in the future. With the COVID pandemic, many places have shut down which means businesses are losing money and are having to close their doors. It’s a scary situation that I’m not sure either candidate can handle very well. People are losing their homes, jobs and businesses due to the pandemic. This situation wasn’t handled properly the first time and they are expecting another wave to hit. We need to be able to have an economy that can not only survive but maintain a strong balance for the foreseeable future.”
Sidney Wheeler, senior psychology and cognitive sciences major — Election results
“I think the most pressing issue during this election is the impending results. Trump has stated multiple times that he will not leave office if he loses due to voter fraud conspiracy. This is not a conspiracy because there is no voter fraud due to mail-in ballots (which has been confirmed by the FBI). My greatest concern is that our country will be in chaos if the election does not go the way it is supposed to. What will happen to the country if Biden is elected and Trump refuses to leave office? I hope the systems put in place can sort out this issue and convince Americans that voting is safe and secure and this election will be as smooth as every other in history even with mail-in ballots.”
Julie Frey, junior political science and environmental studies major — Environment
“In my opinion, climate change is the most important issue on the ballot this year. It’s incredibly frustrating that time and time again our lawmakers put aside or downplay the importance of taking action. Our planet has limited resources and yet we continue to abuse it as if it doesn’t. It’s also so critical in terms of intersectionality: finding solutions to reverse our emissions could help solve so many other issues like environmental racism.”
Alexandra Saccone, freshman English major — Environment
“Basically, I’m inclined to vote based on how I feel about the environment because I’ve had the privilege of traveling to rainforests in Central America and snorkeling the coral reefs all over the Western Hemisphere and I’ve seen a large decline in just a few years. It sort of reiterates what that new David Attenborough documentary — A Life on Our Planet — is about. He’s watched the world change in his 94-year lifetime. In just three or four years of me initially snorkeling off an island and then returning I can see that the whole area is bleached and the animals aren’t as numerous. And in the rainforests you can see them slowly getting smaller and it’s horrible and if the rest of the world is in the movement to restore order and the U.S. is just standing to the side, I think that is disgusting and something needs to be done. The earth isn’t political and it’s not going to wait and not die just because we need to ‘fix the economy’ first.”
Paul Pullara, senior physics major — Environment
“It’s definitely hard to pick just one issue considering the state of the country right now, but I think my main issue is environmental justice. There’s hardly any other issue in our country that won’t be exacerbated by failing to mitigate climate decay, so it’s disappointing that we still have politicians who seem to think solutions aren’t even worth considering. It’s clear, maybe now more than ever, that we can’t keep electing leaders who fail to propose forward-thinking policies, or who lack the humility and perspective necessary to do so. To me, the quality of a candidate’s climate plan is a good metric of how capable that politician is of meeting this standard.”
James Hartz, junior applied mathematics major — Environment
“For me personally, the most important issue for this election is climate change. For my entire life, I and most of my peers have been told to help save and preserve the environment, whether it was from our parents, our teachers, or even just educational television. But we’re now quickly encroaching on a point of no return where we can no longer simply put a water bottle in a recycling bin and call it a day; sweeping, large-scale change must be implemented in order to save the world on which we all live. I get stressed every time I read the news because almost every time I do I learn that yet another significant part of our ecosystem has burned down or melted. It’s frustrating that those in power prioritize their own earnings above the health and safety of both their constituents and their planet. Basically, it’s now or never, and even amid so many other substantive issues, I think this is of the utmost importance.”
William Roberts, junior biomedical sciences and chemistry major — Environment
“For me, the most important issue at stake in the upcoming presidential election is the federal government’s role in the fight against climate change. Since taking office, President Trump has consistently slashed existing regulations put in place to reduce carbon emissions and protect American wildlife, water and land. Climate change is an existential threat to humanity, and every year that passes without effort to combat it, the threat grows more present. At this point, drastic reforms need to be made in order to avoid the most harmful effects of climate change. Some of its effects are already visible in the country, in the form of increasingly destructive natural disasters — wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes. Recognizing the potential opportunities that exist in the fight against climate change, former Vice President Biden supports a plan to heavily invest in renewable energy while shifting away from fossil fuels. Not only would this be a first step towards a carbon-neutral U.S., but it would lead to the creation of millions of high-paying jobs in the country. The short-sightedness of the current administration and the Republican Party has doomed millions in the country, billions around the world, to struggle with aridification, disruption of weather patterns and intensifying natural disasters.”
Perla Zolt, sophomore biomedical sciences major — Generational disconnect
“Sometimes I feel as if older generations don’t take the voice of the youth seriously. With everything going on in the nation ration from Black Lives Matter to women’s rights and COVID, older generations tend to believe that younger people don’t know what they are talking about or that our opinions don’t matter because of our age. It is often frustrating trying to explain my perspective and opinion to older folks who tend to not care what I have to say nor respect my beliefs. I understand that I do not have the same wisdom as my older peers, but I believe everyone’s opinions should be heard and respected.”
Netra Mittal, junior economics and math major — Human rights
“I’ve always been very active politically and seeing how President Trump’s rise to power has impacted elections across the world has been very concerning. Even in India, which is where I’m from, our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, won a second term by an unprecedented margin. It’s quite horrifying because since he took office, minorities across the country, particularly where you might rely on other countries to denounce this violence, Trump’s own Islamophobia has fueled it. So this election I believe is a high stakes one for everyone regardless of nationality.
I’m also concerned about abortion rights and LGBTQ+ rights as I’m someone who could be affected very directly be a reversal of either of those. I also think that in the dialogue about climate change, immigration rights, environmental justice and BLM, it’s important to remember that climate change isn’t a 2050 issue. In poorer countries and developing countries, it’s an issue of yesterday. It’s already severely impacting my country, for example, and having a sitting president deny that it even exists has been disastrous.
Le Cao, senior business administration major — Human rights
“The issue I care about most in regards to the election is human rights. With Trump having successfully appointed Amy Coney Barrett, a woman who is known to be against LGBTQ and abortion, to the Supreme Court, it is possible to see members of the LGBTQ community lose their rights. I want everyone to feel like human beings and not be discriminated against just based on their sexual orientation. A lot of conservative views are based on a religious view which is something that we need to keep out of politics.
“One other thing is that our system is racially biased and minorities face tougher consequences for their actions compared to their white counterparts. We need someone that has the ability to see injustice in the system and do all they can to fix it. Not someone who uses the National Guard to scare off non-violent protestors and calls upon the white militia to act against so called ‘looters.’
“Leaders using military action to scare their own people instead of protecting them is something that doesn’t make sense to me. America is supposed to be the ‘Land of the Free,’ yet we aren’t free when we’re policed and bullied to obey the system and to be scared of someone in higher power.”
Britney Gutierrez, senior public health major — Immigration
“For me, the biggest issue going into the election would be immigration. I come from parents who immigrated to this country and came with nothing, but made something of themselves. To see what is occurring currently with children being taken from their parents and being kept in small camps by the Mexican border while their parents are deported is horrible to me. There are over 500 kids that have been left orphans because they can’t locate their parents because they are unable to get their contact information or anything. I just want better rights for immigrants because people don’t realize that there are great things they offer to this country: they work jobs such as picking crops under blazing sun for hours with little pay and these are jobs that the average American would never think of doing. So for this election, I want a president that will actually care for immigrant rights.”
Sabri Hafizuddin, junior architecture major — Immigration
“What I am most worried about is the future state of immigration laws because I myself am an immigrant. I have been a U.S. citizen for the past 1.5 years and I believe that every human has the right to a better life. I am also against the practices of ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement — and how they deal with illegal immigrants and the separation of families. Registering under the Obama administration opened my eyes to how fortunate I was to obtain a U.S. citizenship. What makes me so worried is how easily the strict border laws have been implemented and what could possibly come next.”
Henry John, senior communication major — Media bias
“The most important issue for me regarding this year’s presidential election is media bias and corruption. Elements of this destructive facet of our country can be traced back to the 2016 election and beyond. I truly feel like every breaking news story you hear in this day and age needs to be double or even triple fact-checked by other sources. The paranoia and hysteria of this entire 2020 calendar year that has been more media-fueled than anything is just plain wrong. It’s from this issue to me that every other ‘issue’ that has been discussed at the presidential debates and on the airwaves of many a broadcast network stems.”
Jyla Serfino, sophomore political science major — Media bias
“My biggest problem with voting was trying to collect accurate knowledge on the candidates to make an informed decision with my vote. I feel like media sources are weighing more into the evaluation of the candidates as people rather than evaluating the candidates’ policies, which makes it hard to determine who can best benefit my needs and priorities. Some news sources almost seem to have an ‘opinion’ in their content, and although it’s subtle, it’s like the news was reporting an opinion or a subjective piece rather than an objective/neutral one.”
Vikas Ochani, junior business administration major — Social reform
“The issue I care about most is social reform. In the past four years, the president (fueled by nothing other than selfish gain and hate) has shown time and time again how he does not benefit anyone other than himself and his fellow white rich peers. Right now, the black community is being brutally targeted against. This needs to change. Being a POC myself in America, I’ve experienced countless numbers of racist comments, or actions. America is not living up to its standard of the ‘American Dream’ with Trump as president, and another four years of Trump will continue to regress this country, much farther than it already has in the past four years.”
Maddy Ginter, sophomore biological sciences major — Women’s rights
“My biggest political issue is sex worker rights and the rights of women. I do not believe that the rights of women or sex workers should be obstructed due to the opinions of one single group. Sex work is real work, and women and sex workers deserve more respect than they are given in the political sphere.”
Responses were lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
Abby Grasta, Shira Jacobson, Brendan Kelly, Quinn Kennedy, Abby Kolstee, Jack Porcari, Eve Rokhvadze and Hunter Skoczylas contributed to the reporting.
Justin Weiss is the senior features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.