By Jon Lee
By Lizzy Stocks
An unscientific Gatepost survey conducted from Oct. 16 to Oct. 25 of 400 Framingham State University students found that 57 percent of respondents believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Twelve percent of survey respondents believe the country is headed in the right direction, while the remaining 31 percent are undecided.
History professor Jon Huibregtse said this number “jumped out” at him because the country has been “so divided” and the fact that 31 percent of students “do not have an opinion about it is surprising.”
Sociology professor Virginia Rutter said, “I respect people saying they need more information, and that they’re not sure. I think that’s a great disposition for college students to have.”
She added, “We are living in very confusing times where reality – definitions of reality – are under assault, and even if you can say that out loud, that’s smart or wise.”
Gallup News, one of the nation’s oldest polling agencies, has asked Americans this deceptively simple satisfaction question since 1935.
It is one of the best indicators of how Americans generally feel about the state of the nation, according to Paul Ewenstein, FSU political science professor.
As of early October, 38 percent of the country is satisfied with the way things are going, while 59 percent are dissatisfied, and 3 percent have no opinion, according to Gallup’s website.
Natalie Chaprazian, president of the FSU Pride Alliance, said in an email, “It just seems like right now, people in office are trying to silence/ignore groups of people that need help the most. We need someone who is going to look out for the people’s best interest and not their own.”
In the survey, respondents were given the option of remaining anonymous or providing their name. They were also given a space to provide additional comments regarding their survey answers if they wished to do so.
Senior Zach Colten, Gatepost editorial board member, responded, “The U.S. is operating under an anti-science, anti-logic, emotionally driven ideology that ignores the needs of everyday citizens. … We need leadership that backs truth and wants to move the country in a more positive direction.”
Another survey respondent said, “I think that a certain degree of censorship is happening both on the right and the left. The silencing of opposing ideas is a slippery slope. … Free speech is free speech – we don’t get to choose what people can and can’t say.”
Of all the survey respondents, 77.5 percent are currently registered to vote.
Of these respondents, 44 percent are “unaffiliated,” 37 percent are registered Democrats, 10 percent are Republican, 2 percent are Libertarian, and 7 percent are registered with a third party.
Massachusetts operates under a “hybrid primary” system, meaning unaffiliated voters may vote for candidates of either political party during the primary election.
Florida, by contrast, uses a “closed primary” system, which means voters must be registered as a Democrat or Republican to vote in either partisan primary.
Christopher McCarthy-Latimer, chair of the political science department, said the trend of young voters registering as unaffiliated “wasn’t surprising. … More people, and especially young people, are becoming independent.”
He added as Americans grow up, they learn about the Democratic and Republican parties, and neither party speaks “to issues they [young people] care about.”
Joe Coelho, political science professor, said the survey results “do mirror a lot of the trends we see at the national level.”
Forty-two percent of Gatepost survey respondents voted in the 2016 presidential election.
Of these 169 students, 75 percent voted for Hillary Clinton, while 16 percent voted for Donald Trump, 4.6 percent voted for Gary Johnson, 2 percent for Jill Stein, and 2.4 percent voted for a write-in candidate.
Many of those who did not vote in the 2016 presidential election were not old enough to vote at the time. Furthermore, approximately 6.5 percent of those who did not vote indicated they are not U.S. citizens.
Sixty-one percent of survey respondents plan to vote in the midterm elections next week. Eighteen percent do not plan to vote and 21 percent are undecided.
Melissa Hayes, president of the Young Democrats Association at FSU, said, “I am just shocked by how many people aren’t voting or have not decided if they are going to vote. It is so important for young people to make their voices heard, so I really hope more people end up deciding to vote.”
Huibregtse said he was “happy to see that 77.5 percent of [respondents] are registered.” Though he said it’s “surprising” that many are undecided about whether they will vote in the midterm elections, he believes the percentage of those who indicated they plan to do so is relatively high for a “demographic that doesn’t typically vote.”
One survey respondent invoked JFK’s famous “ask not what your country can do for you” speech. They said, “Everyone praised him. We’ve lost that integrity and started voting, electing, and acting for our own selfish wants.”
The midterms will determine Massachusetts’ representatives for the U.S. House and Senate. Voters will also decide on the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and other important positions at the state and local levels.
Coelho said, “One thing I do see that is pretty promising is that young people – the millennial generation – I think are going to be turning out a little more than usual.”
Americans aged 18-35 comprise the demographic of those least likely to vote, according the Pew Research Center. Millennials continue to have the lowest voter turnout of any age group – approximately 46 percent voted in the last presidential election.
The Pew analysis also found that “baby boomers reached their peak voting power in 2004.” From here on, the number of millennial voters will continue to increase as people come of age, while the number of baby boomers will gradually decline.
FSU President F. Javier Cevallos said, “Our democracy only works if citizens take the time to participate in it.”
He added, “I hope the results [of the survey] will encourage those students who have registered and are hesitant about exercising their right to vote to go to the polls!”
Dean of Students Meg Nowak Borrego said, “If you do not feel prepared to vote in this election, I encourage you to take advantage of your educational opportunities at FSU to learn more about politics and history, so that you are able to make educated decisions.”
Stephanie Bennett, SGA senate chair and president of the Framingham State chapter of IGNITE, said, “Every student has a voice and the best way to exercise that voice is at the ballot box.”
IGNITE is a national organization that describes itself as the “movement of young women eager to become the next generation of political leaders,” according to its website.
Bennett said, “IGNITE’s goal is to encourage young women to declare their political ambition and change the statistics.”
“Women make up 51 percent of the population, but are dramatically underrepresented in political leadership. Only 20 percent of Congress and 25 percent of all state legislators are women. … I believe that our leaders should be the best and the brightest, yes, but also represent the demographic of whom they were elected by,” Bennett said.
One survey question asked students about their news-reading habits. They were encouraged to circle all the different sources they use to access political information.
Eighty-two percent of survey respondents rely on social media, while 68 percent indicated they rely on television news. Forty-six percent of respondents read mainstream newspapers and 30 percent listen to the radio.
McCarthy-Latimer said this is another trend political scientists have recognized, but there are pros and cons.
“If students are going to mainstream sites that haven’t been hacked, then they’re getting good information, solid information. Unfortunately, people are taking things that are said on Facebook as being true, and they may not be,” he said.
Coelho said, “Social media has democratized how we consume and access media. Now, I can find stories and political coverage through so many sources, which is great, because it allows you to pick and choose. At the same time, how reliable are those sources?”
He added it is impossible to tell if information on social media is peer-reviewed or subject to any editing to determine if it is trustworthy.
“All of that is lost with social media,” Coelho said. “So, it’s up to the consumer and the voter to believe what they’re consuming and reading, and that can be problematic.”
Survey respondents were also given a list of 13 issues the U.S. is currently facing and were asked to indicate any that were important to them. They were also provided an “other” space to specify an issue or issues of their choice.
With 77 percent indicating its significance, climate change was the most important issue to survey respondents. In addition, at least 60 percent of survey respondents said cost and access to health care, women’s reproductive rights, gun control, and police conduct were important issues to them.
The number of FSU students who regard climate change as important has increased from two years ago. A similar Gatepost survey published in November 2016 found 67 percent of respondents believed climate change “posed a significant challenge to the U.S.”
Gatepost survey respondent Isaac Vu, a junior, said, “I believe climate change is the biggest issue because it’s a world-wide problem.”
Another survey respondent, senior Kyle Robert Hicks, said, “All of these [issues] are incredibly important right now because the choices made about these issues have instant ramifications and could lead us, as a country, down a more destructive path.”
Huibregtse said he was glad to see health care as the second-most -important issue to college students. He said “it gets dangerous out there” when students can no longer stay covered through their parents’ health insurance.
Those who are on their parents’ health insurance plan can remain enrolled until they turn 26, according to the federal government health care site.
This change became law in March 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Before the ACA, many employers could remove adult children from their parents’ coverage because of their age, regardless of whether they were a student or a recent college graduate, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
A number of respondents who indicated they are concerned about reproductive rights stressed that women should have ownership of their bodies.
One survey respondent said, “I’m a woman on birth control and I want to be able to take care of my own body.”
Another added, “Women should be the ones deciding about their bodies.”
Of the 8.5 percent of survey respondents who filled out the “other” space, 23.5 percent indicated immigration policy as an important issue in the U.S. today.
One survey respondent said the country needs to help “improve the state of [migrant] homelands. Simply keeping them out of the U.S. is not a long-term solution.”
Another survey respondent disagreed, saying, “Immigration is getting out of control to the point where we aren’t taking care of American citizens.”
As of 2016, more than 43.7 million immigrants live in the U.S., accounting for 13.5 percent of the total U.S. population, according to American Community Survey data. This figure includes immigrants who are here on permanent and temporary visas, as well as those who are undocumented.
Between 2015 and 2016, the foreign-born population increased by approximately one percent, a rate slower than the 2.1-percent growth between 2014 and 2015.
Other Gatepost survey respondents expressed frustration with the current political discourse. One said, “I’ve decided to distance myself from politics because they have caused negative effects to my mental state!”
Another said, “Nobody wants to read about politics.”
Of the survey results overall, Rutter said, “I feel grateful that this is my community. I don’t agree with every single person and I would like to see even more voting and even more progressive voting on issues, but the universe of thoughts and intentions are ones that frankly make me feel good about the community I’m in.”
She added, “I wish the world were already a better place. … But I’m grateful to see students who are ready to be involved, and who are informed and alert, because it’s never in my lifetime seemed more important.”
[Editor’s Note: Zach Colten is an editorial board member of The Gatepost.]