As Gen Z gears up to vote in their first presidential election, it’s clear that they will be a defining force in determining who will reside in the White House come 2020. Gen Z is already known for being an activist, vocal generation with strong opinions, and as a result, this election is already turning into a multi-issue race in their eyes.
To find out what issues and candidates matter most to college students as we head into the thick of the election season, we recently surveyed 472 college students across the country before the second round of Democratic debates took place this week on July 30 and 31. The survey was conducted via our College Insights Platform.
The Core Findings
Of the 65% of college students who said they were affiliated with a political party, 71% identified as Democratic. Regardless of this affiliation, 33% of students feel Joe Biden is taking the lead in the Democratic primary, but an additional 31% said they weren’t sure who was coming out on top among the 24 candidates. Overall, 70% of surveyed students stated they would be voting for a Democratic candidate over Donald Trump if the 2020 election was being held today.
Not only do Gen Z students have strong beliefs about their party affiliations and candidate preferences, but they are also heavily focused on the issues at stake this election season. College students identified the health of the environment (36%), immigration (25%) and pro-life/pro-choice rights (24%) as the top issues that matter to them when determining who they will vote for.
Gun violence/mass shootings (21%), racial injustice and inequality (20%), college affordability and acceptance (18%), and division within our nation (18%) also ranked among the top problems Gen Z wants to see the next president address.
In addition to focusing on key issues at stake this election season, 96% of college students said they would vote for a candidate who was a different gender and/or race than themselves. This reinforces the fact that for college students, the issues candidates are addressing are more important than the candidates’ genders and races.
Our survey also examined how sentiment for the 2020 election differs by gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. In particular, male and female college students (to no surprise) varied the most when deciding which candidate they believed was leading the Democratic Primary race. For instance, 39% of men believe Joe Biden is leading the race while only 30% of women said the same – but 36% of women said they were unsure about which candidate was leading overall, which was the most common response from women. This shows that Democratic debates in particular will have to find ways to win over their votes.
Bernie Sanders came in second for men, with 16% believing he was in the lead where only 8% of females thought the same. Elizabeth Warren was the third overall leader for 13% of women where only 10% of men said she was leading.
Second Democratic Debate Results
This week’s main survey to Gen Z was followed up with another flash poll of 262 college students to determine if they tuned into the debate and who they believe “won” the debates in terms of the candidates’ overall presence and plans for addressing key issues.
With the conclusion of the second round of Democratic debates, Gen Z has decided who they think won – 26% of Gen Z students believe Elizabeth Warren was the overall winner. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders trailed behind, with 14% and 12% saying these candidates, respectively, won the debates overall. This is an interesting finding considering that while Gen Z students believe Joe Biden is winning the overall race, Elizabeth Warren is clearly performing better in the debates from their perspective. This is also aligned with national polls that indicate Elizabeth Warren is in second place following Joe Biden.
The findings also show that candidates did not address certain issues very well from Gen Z’s perspective, including student loan debt, gun violence/laws and the health of the environment. In addition, 73% of respondents admit that the Democratic party is currently divided and only 69% of Gen Z is confident that at least one candidate will be able to improve the current state of our country/government.
*To learn more about Gen Z college students and their voting preferences, download Conversations with Gen Z: The 2020 Election report or check back on our blog where we regularly ask Gen Z how they feel about the election to include who’s leading the debate in their eyes.