It’s a big week for the 2020 Election as the largest presidential primary debate in recorded American political history is set to take place today at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. More so, presidential candidates are increasingly looking to win Gen Z votes as they remain a defining force in the upcoming election – with a Pew Research Center study finding that one in 10 eligible voters in the upcoming 2020 elections are Gen Z.
To find out what issues Gen Z is most passionate about, we recently surveyed 325 college students around the country. The survey was conducted via our College Insights Platform.
The Core Findings
With a record 12 candidates participating in the debate, 33% of college students surveyed were unsure of which candidate was in the lead. Of those who did decide, Joe Biden took the top spot, with 26% saying they felt that the former vice president was winning the primary. On the other hand, when asked if the election were held today, 19% of students said they’d most likely vote for Bernie Sanders, followed by Elizabeth Warren (14%), Donald Trump (12%) and 22% of students unsure.
When sorted by gender, men were more likely to think that Joe Biden was winning the primary, while women tended to think Elizabeth Warren was in the lead. Additionally, if the election were held today, men were more likely than women to vote for Donald Trump.
It’s clear Gen Z wants to feel heard as their perceptions of candidates were impacted by whether or not they identified with the candidate on a personal level. Of those surveyed, 75% said that a candidate’s relatability would somewhat impact their decision to vote for a specific candidate and 15% said it was extremely important to their decision.
While Gen Z’s perceptions may be dictated by a candidate’s relatability, 86% of students said that celebrity endorsements of political candidates had no effect on their decision to support a candidate. Meaning that in a generation perceived to be heavily influenced by social media and pop culture, Gen Z’s political opinions are not likely to be swayed by influencers.
Our survey also examined the issues college students are keeping a close eye on ahead of the October debate. Among the issues students are most concerned with, climate change (48%), gun violence and mass shootings (42%), immigration (21%) and student debt (21%) took the lead.
Division within our nation (19%), pro-life/pro-choice rights (16%), the national debt (13%) and international relations/global stability (13%) also ranked among top issues Gen Z wants to see the next president take on.
Males and females were also split when it came to top issues as women were more likely to be concerned about gun violence, pro-life/pro-choice rights, racial injustice and gender equality than men.
On the mind of Gen Z
In the third round of Democratic debates, The National Rifle Association (NRA) was a hot topic among college students as our survey found that two-thirds of students do not support the NRA. Additionally, 58% of respondents said they would not vote for a candidate that accepted donations from the organization. When split by gender, men were more likely to be supporters of the NRA and vote for a candidate accepting NRA donations.
Student debt was another pressing issue where Gen Z differed in opinion, with 45% of students saying they’d vote for a candidate that didn’t favor student debt forgiveness and 42% saying they wouldn’t. Upon discussing free college, Gen Z was more forgiving, as 66% of students said they would vote for a candidate even if they did not support free college. Overall, men were more likely to vote for a candidate that did not support student debt forgiveness than women.
To learn more about Gen Z college students and their voting preferences, download Barnes & Noble College’s 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, including who’s leading the debate in their eyes.