The majority of University of Connecticut students, staff and faculty polled by The Daily Campus will be voting for Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris in the upcoming presidential election.
The Daily Campus created two polls, one for students and the other staff/faculty. The student survey received 183 responses. The staff and faculty survey received 26 responses. 79.2% of the student responses and 84.6% of the faculty responses said at the time of taking the survey, they will be voting for Democratic candidates Biden and Harris.
Of the student respondents, 98.9% said they are eligible and registered to vote. The majority of respondents are registered to vote in their hometown; 10.6% of respondents are registered in Mansfield. Despite this, 56.8% of the respondents stated they were voting via absentee ballot, and 37.7% said they would vote in person on Nov. 3.
“Of the student respondents, 98.9% said they are eligible and registered to vote.”
Student respondents cited several causes for concern regarding the 2020 election, but the most prominent concerns regard the United States Postal Service, the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically, social distancing at the polls.
Staff and faculty showed similar numbers in regards to eligibility and registration for voting. Of the 26 respondents, 100% were both eligible and registered to vote. Staff and faculty respondents were slightly less likely to be registered to vote in their hometown, with 84% being registered in their hometowns in comparison to the student respondents’ 85.6%.
The most prominent divergence between student respondents and staff and faculty was the method they plan to use to cast their vote. 65.4% of staff and faculty respondents said they will be voting in person on Nov. 3, with the remaining 34.6% of respondents saying they will vote via absentee ballot.
“65.4% of staff and faculty respondents said they will be voting in person on Nov. 3, with the remaining 34.6% of respondents saying they will vote via absentee ballot.”
In line with the student respondents, staff and faculty respondents cited the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing at the polls and USPS as major concerns. Additionally, some respondents expressed concern regarding the proper counting of votes.
Most student participants identified as seniors, followed by freshmen, then sophomores, with juniors least represented in the results. Students from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences made up over half of survey respondents, but several major UConn schools and programs were represented.
According to a newsroom release from the USPS, 122 million ballots have been processed and delivered since Sept. 4. This number includes blank ballots from election officials delivered to voters and completed ballots delivered to election officials.
According to the 2020 U.S. Postal Service Election Mail Fact Sheet, The U.S. Postal Inspection Service continues to defend the mail system through the election season.
“Utilizing proven mail-fraud detection and loss prevention strategies and countermeasures, Postal Inspectors will continue to actively identify attempts to compromise the mail system our nation is depending on during this critical time,” the website reads. “Daily coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies ensures each agency has timely information and all agencies’ resources, tools and techniques can be applied to ensure the integrity of America’s election.”
“Daily coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies ensures each agency has timely information and all agencies’ resources, tools and techniques can be applied to ensure the integrity of America’s election.”Retracted from United States Postal Service website
Mansfield Town Clerk and Registrar of Vital Statistics Sara-Ann Chaine said in an email to date, 3,000 absentee ballots have been issued. Of those ballots, 2,100 have been returned and logged.
“In Mansfield, for example, we have seen over 30% of our registered voters vote absentee so far compared to less than 4% in the 2016 presidential election,” she said.
Chaine said the Town Clerk’s office encourages voters to drop their ballots off or return them by mail well before Nov. 3.
“Early ballot returns will help the clerks as they work to sort and prepare the returned ballots for the registrars,” Chaine said. “Voters have until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3 to return their ballot to the ballot drop box. Per state statute at this time, ballots received after 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 cannot be counted.”
Chaine emphasized the importance of voters properly filling out ballots.
“It is crucial that voters follow the ballot instructions included with their ballot exactly otherwise their ballot is not allowed to be counted,” Chaine said.
Anne Greineder, Democratic registrar, Mansfield Registrar of Voters said in an email that voting in person will be the same as years prior, and the hours will continue to be 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Come early, there may be lines and due to the pandemic, the lines will be mostly outside,” Greineder said in an email.
Dr. David Banach, UConn Health head of infection prevention and hospital epidemiologist, said it is safe to go in-person to vote as people are opting to mail in their votes.
“Polling stations are preparing,” Dr. Banach said. “The fact that a large proportion is not going in-person will help decrease the number of people at the polls for social distancing and hand hygiene as compared to if only in-person was allowed.”
“The fact that a large proportion is not going in-person will help decrease the number of people at the polls for social distancing and hand hygiene as compared to if only in-person was allowed.”Dr. David Banach, UConn Health
In both the student and staff/faculty polls, The Daily Campus asked respondents to rate how influential 10 different political issues were towards their vote. The 10 issues presented were police brutality, the Supreme Court, the economy, the Black Lives Matter movement, women’s rights/abortion, the COVID-19 pandemic, the second amendment, healthcare, academic funding and climate change. The scale was from “one” to “10”, “one” being the most influential and “10” being the least influential. Each issue was considered separately, not ranked against each other.
Based upon the results from both the 183 student responses and 26 faculty/staff responses, the two political issues that received the highest number of “most influential” votes, were the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
In the student poll, 83 survey takers, or 45.4% of the voters, rated COVID-19 as a “one.” Seventy eight survey takers, 42.6% of the voters, rated climate change as a “one.”
From the 26 faculty/staff responses, both COVID-19 and climate change received 14 votes, which is 53.8% of the survey takers.
In the student survey, the second amendment appeared to be the least important issue, 19.1% of students, or 35 survey respondents, ranking the issue as a “10.” The other issues had under 10% of the voters ranking each one as least important.
Associate professor-in-residence of political science Dr. Ronald Schurin spoke about how a small number of votes can have a major impact on election outcomes, citing the 2000 election of Bush v. Gore. He said the debates likely will not sway many voters, but they may make some decide to abstain from voting.
“In a very close election, like 2000 (Bush v. Gore), a last-minute sway of even a small number of voters can be meaningful,” Schurin said. “The debates probably haven’t had much impact in terms of changing voters’ minds, but they may have led to some voters — particularly lukewarm [President Donald] Trump supporters — deciding to stay home.”
Schurin touched on the effects of disinformation on contemporary politics. He said people no longer have faith in neutral media and sources of information.
“One of the most troubling aspects of contemporary politics is that people have lost confidence in the idea of neutral, fact-based sources of information,” Schurin said. “This is heavily due to the President’s ‘enemy of the people’ characterization of mainstream media. In that situation, a significant number of people are particularly vulnerable to disinformation campaigns.”
“One of the most troubling aspects of contemporary politics is that people have lost confidence in the idea of neutral, fact-based sources of information. This is heavily due to the President’s ‘enemy of the people’ characterization of mainstream media. In that situation, a significant number of people are particularly vulnerable to disinformation campaigns.” ”
Dr. Thomas Hayes, associate professor of political science and director of graduate studies, similarly said the debates don’t have a meaningful impact on voters’ decisions. He said this is especially true for this year’s election, as most voters had already made their decision prior to the debates.
“Research shows the debates have almost no meaningful impact on the outcome of an election. What seems to matter is the media narrative following the debates. A meaningful number depends on how close the election is,” Hayes said. “In the last election, late undecided voters broke toward Trump, which was key to his upset bid. However, this year, there are far fewer undecided voters than in 2016. Most people have made up their minds.”
Hayes said the polarity of this election may be part of a larger trend. In particular, he cited Trump’s lack of outreach to voters outside of his base compared to prior U.S. presidents.
“The overall trend in polarization has been an increase since the late 1970s. This election is consistent with that trend of increasing polarization. There is a lot of research on polarization in political science, but there is evidence of major partisan asymmetry in terms of polarization. The Republican Party has moved to be much more conservative and at a much higher rate than the Democratic Party has become more liberal,” Hayes said. “I think Trump’s candidacy demonstrates this. As president, he has done little to reach out to anyone other than his base. That’s really out of the norm.”
“The overall trend in polarization has been an increase since the late 1970s. This election is consistent with that trend of increasing polarization. There is a lot of research on polarization in political science, but there is evidence of major partisan asymmetry in terms of polarization. The Republican Party has moved to be much more conservative and at a much higher rate than the Democratic Party has become more liberal.”Dr. Thomas Hayes, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Graduate Studies
Dr. Paul Herrnson, professor of political science, spoke about the major issues that may be driving people’s votes. He said the COVID-19 pandemic is an unavoidable factor driving the decisions of the public.
“COVID-19 is the 900-pound-gorilla in the room — you can’t avoid it,” Herrnson said. “There’s been over 200,000 deaths, I think there’s been 8 million cases, the economy is shut down, all because the United States did not handle this well.”
Herrnson said he would credit the higher poll concerns for climate change to the fact that survey takers were a Connecticut-affiliated population. Economic issues across the country, such as primary energy sources, can influence people’s opinions on political issues.
Banach said that he is not surprised students, staff and faculty voted for COVID-19 as one of their top political concerns.
“COVID-19 is a public health crisis that we are still very much in the middle of,” Banach said. “We know that it will have a tremendous impact not only on the people it affects with infection. It affects our daily lives as they make their decision on how they are going to vote.”
“COVID-19 is a public health crisis that we are still very much in the middle of. We know that it will have a tremendous impact not only on the people it affects with infection. It affects our daily lives as they make their decision on how they are going to vote.”Dr. David Banach, UConn Health
Banach said it’s important to vote because elected officials will help create an unified public health plan among all levels of government.
“It’s important to vote because the leadership, from federal to local, needs to lead the coordinated response across the country,” Banach said. “Having elected officials who are able to do that will be very important.”
UConn College Republicans’ director of political engagement and economics and seventh-semester political science major Jacob Marie said President Trump’s response to the pandemic has its pros and cons. Marie said the messaging and public appearance was not well-executed.
“On the messaging, this administration has not done a very good job.” Marie said in an email. “The President should wear a mask in public and have blunt disagreements with his staff in private, not publicly feud with them on Twitter. People look for stability and calm from the White House in times like this, and the President is not providing those things.”
Marie believes Trump is doing “as good a job as anyone else would do” in terms of substantive action.
“Among other things, the Trump Administration has put together a task force and has put a great deal of effort into developing a vaccine,” Marie said. “Furthermore, I believe that the president is right in his judgement to be skeptical of more lockdowns and making sure that the cure isn’t worse than the disease.”
Jack Stein, member of UConn’s chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America and first-semester computer science major, said the 2020 election has potential to be the most influential election in recent history.
“This will likely be the most important election of our generation,” Stein said. “Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing incidents of racial injustice, this election will decide the direction of our country for the foreseeable future.”
“Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing incidents of racial injustice, this election will decide the direction of our country for the foreseeable future.”Jack Stein, member of UConn’s chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America
Shaun Simoneau, an eighth-semester political science major and treasurer of the UConn College Democrats, cited COVID-19 as a major issue of note. He said Trump has failed to act swiftly enough as many Americans struggle to cover their needs, negatively affecting his campaign.
“While millions are struggling with rent, bills, unemployment, or the pandemic itself, Trump is failing to appeal to people,” Simoneau said. “I feel this will be detrimental to his campaign.”
Simoneau also stressed the importance of voting in local elections. He said people often underestimate the influence of local elections, but the policy decisions made can have a major influence.
“Local elections are important because local governments have a lot more power than you would think,” Simoneau said. “They determine how schools are funded, what roads are paved, and importantly, what legislation can be enacted to combat poor federal policies.”
Simoneau also said he believes Biden will win the election, but he worries about legal disputes that could take weeks to resolve. He said the first few weeks of November may be tense for the American public.
“Personally, I do think Biden will win the popular vote. The electoral college I feel will ultimately be won by Biden, but there will be severe complications and legal disputes that could take weeks to get our country to the final result,” Simoneau said. “This means the first two to three weeks of November could be a very stressful time to be living in this country.”
Dr. Stephen Stifano is an associate professor-in-residence and director of undergraduate studies of UConn’s department of communication. Stifano said in an email the role of social media in presidential elections has increased over the past 12 years. The pandemic, he said, has accentuated the shift beginning in the early spring.
“The current dynamic, particularly with President Trump’s ardent use of Twitter, means that a lot of voices external to the candidates are amplified through retweets, likes, and shares, creating a chorus of commentary that may not always have the credentials to influence the general public, but is being echoed by the candidates,” Stifano said.
Stifano said voters should consider the news they are consuming. Although there is good factual information on these platforms, Stifano said it’s important for more traditional, older media consumers and younger folks to resist being swayed by misinformation, amongst other things which could be found in television and social media .
“The key is media literacy — knowing the political and financial interests of the source of information you’re using, and making informed decisions about what information to trust and what information to discard,” Stifano said. “It’s easier said than done, but once you start to think more critically about the information and its sources, you can do a much better job using it to influence your vote.”
“The key is media literacy — knowing the political and financial interests of the source of information you’re using, and making informed decisions about what information to trust and what information to discard.”Dr. Stephen Stifano, Associate Professor of Communications
Amanda Crawford is an assistant professor in UConn’s journalism department. Crawford is a former political reporter for Bloomberg News, The Arizona Republic and The Baltimore Sun. Crawford said there is “good journalism” with election coverage varying from investigative pieces to hot button issues. However, she noticed that a lot of attention is directed towards a fixation on data collection coverage and poll numbers.
“The media coverage that gets a lot of attention is this kind of horse race coverage where everything is looked at through the lens of polling and the electoral outcome,” Crawford said.
Crawford also said when journalists focus too much on the competitive nature of the election and the outcome, it can lead to less coverage of the policies at the heart of the matter.
“I do feel like, right now in this country, we think of politics as sports teams, and I think the media reinforces that in a lot of ways,” Crawford said.
Cheyenne Tavares, ConnPIRG New Voters Project coordinator and office manager, said ConnPIRG has been working remotely to help students make a plan to vote and inform them on how they vote safely.
“This election is taking place during a very unique and unpredictable year, and I can understand for a multitude of reasons why students might feel as though their voice and their vote doesn’t matter,” Tavares said. “But I want all students to know that it does. Your vote and your voice matters.”
Natalie Seier, ConnPIRG retention and recruitment director, said ConnPIRG has been helping students register to vote only using studentvote.org. She said there always tend to be concerns about how to register every election, but new issues have risen to unexpected housing changes.
“I think every year there is some confusion from students about whether they need to re-register or not,” Seier said. “Specifically, students who are registered to vote in Mansfield but have a new mailing address due to an on-campus or off campus housing switch. Especially with mail-in ballots, it’s important their address was up to date to receive their application. This can also be an issue for students staying home this semester.”
Tavares said it’s important for young voters to vote in various elections because they represent the largest and most diverse voting bloc.
“Young people may very well decide this election, and have the power to continue to use their voice in the future, because it is our future that we should be fighting for and not letting older generations decide for us,” Tavares said.
UConn President Thomas Katsouleas, along with Carl Lejuez, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs and Michael Gilbert, vice president for Student Affairs, released a letter to the UConn community on Oct. 16 about how to vote.
The letter recommended UConn students, especially Connecticut residents, register to vote ahead of time and cast an absentee ballot. He wrote that UConn students can use Connecticut’s same-day registration program, but due to the COVID precautions, the same-day option may take a long time on Election Day.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot in person in the state of Connecticut is Nov. 2, according to the letter. The ballot must be received by town clerks by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
For those who are still interested in Mansfield’s same-day registration, it will be in the Town Hall at 4 South Eagleville Road. Students must bring identification and proof of residency to register.
The letter also advised to vote with an absentee ballot because it can help reduce worry about social distancing at the polls and not being able to vote due to being placed in medical quarantine or isolation.
“A student who is perfectly fine in late October might find themselves in isolation by Election Day, meaning they cannot go into public to cast their ballot and would miss their chance to vote,” the letter said. “While we have a very low prevalence of the virus on our campuses at the moment, none of us can predict the future, even a few weeks away.”
Another email from Katsouleas on Oct. 29 encouraged students to vote, and directed them towards election resources.
“UConn does not endorse or oppose particular candidates or political parties, nor does it take an institutional stance on contents of campaign platforms,” Katsouleas said in the email. “At the same time, we consider it part of our responsibility as a public institution to facilitate civic engagement, thoughtful dialogue and inclusive participation in our community and society at large.”