Young political leaders at UConn agree: Election 2020 is ‘big for everybody on both sides’

The cost of college, climate change, the makeup of the Supreme Court, social justice and government spending are among the issues of concern to young voters at UConn.

Voted printed papers on white surface

A Spring 2020 Harvard poll of 18- to 29-year-olds found that 63% of respondents will “definitely be voting” in this year’s presidential election, up 16% from this time in the 2016 election.

Connecticut, a historically blue state, is home to both young Democrats and young Republicans, with chapters for both at many universities across the state. 

Michael Cerulli, the president of College Democrats of Connecticut and a UConn student, said climate change, Supreme Court seats and the U.S. Census count being some of the “once in a lifetime” topics surrounding this upcoming election. 

“We are getting to the final few decades where real action is actually effective at stopping the dramatic effects that are being predicted [for climate change],” Cerulli said. 

Tom Heuschkel, president of the UConn College Republicans, emphasized the notion of this being a “once in a lifetime election” is said every election cycle.

“You hear it every four years, ‘The stakes have never been higher,’ ‘It’s the most important election of our lives.’ Given where we are now, in the pandemic and amongst all the social movements that have gone on in the last couple months, it’s big for everybody on both sides,” Heuschkel said. 

Interviewed just two days before the death of Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Cerulli predicted the next president will likely have the chance to appoint up to four new justices. 

“Being able to flip [the Supreme Court] is a once in a lifetime chance,” Cerulli said. “The rhetoric around this election just shows there are some unprecedented opportunities in this election.”

Cerulli said another important issue to young voters is the value of their education, and he noted the price of education is going up when “arguably the quality of education is going down.” 

Heuschkel echoed the importance of student loan debt to young voters, and said it’s important for students understand what they are getting themselves into when they go to college.

“I hope people can understand the financial investment behind [going to college], and not just hope that one day the government is going to decide to pay for it,” Heuschkel said.

College students also should pay much more attention to the local elections as the Connecticut state legislature makes a lot of decisions, Cerulli said.

“It’s important that we elect Joe Biden [as president] and a democratic Senate [in Congress], but it’s also really important that you elect a democratic state legislator,” Cerulli said. “States are the ones leading the way in the absence of federal leadership.” 

The decisions of state legislators directly influence college students, especially those at public universities like UConn.

“I saw a bunch of anger over the last few months toward the UConn administration, some of that anger justified and some of it, frankly, not justified,” Cerulli said. “The people they should really be taking those grievances up with are their state legislators, who are doing things like setting UConn’s budget and determining things like what UConn can and can’t do in terms of student relief.”

At the state level, Heuschkel and the UConn College Republicans see spending and tolls as some of the larger issues. 

“The topic of tolls in the state started about two years ago when Gov. [Ned] Lamont was elected,” Heuschkel said. “We’re taxed enough already in the state, I think, and just adding to the finances of commuters, I think that’s unfair to people who already live in the state.” 

If President Donald Trump wins re-election, Cerulli worries about the impact of his COVID-19 response on college campuses.

“It means we will probably have to deal with another semester of just botched coronavirus response,” Cerulli said. “I have no faith.” 

Heuschkel said regardless of who wins the election, the Republican party needs to work on how to gain the support of young voters

“The Republican party has to find a way to appeal to young voters, and the Democrats do it right by saying ‘here’s this, here’s that, free whatever, we’ll pay for it,’ which is just an easy answer to a large problem, which isn’t really an answer at all,” Heuschkel said. 

Cerulli also said he worries about the impact another Trump term would have on women, and their rights.

“If you are a college student who needs to have access to reproductive healthcare, good luck over the next four years because maybe in Connecticut you’ll be fine, but if you go to [other states], that will be catastrophic for tens of thousands of women,” Cerulli said.

Women, as well as those part of minority groups, make up a large percentage of the youth vote, and B Diaz, the president of UConn’s Collaborative Organizing group that focuses on advocacy on campus, said there are many issues that will affect people in the group. 

“Some issues that we are particularly interested in when it comes to voting are climate justice, healthcare, policing, economic justice, and so much more,” Diaz said. 

She added that while voting is important, it’s only the start of what young voters should be doing.

“While voting is an important part of participation in civil life, we must stress that politics, activism and organizing do not start and end with voting,” Diaz said. “It is one tool in our toolkit as we attempt to socially transform our country.”

[Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash]