By Shanna O’Mara
There is less than a week left until televisions around the country are lit by red and blue maps, less than a week until balloons cascade over the winning candidate and less than a week until it’s decided.
With only days until the election of the next president of the United States, Rider students took part in a survey, voicing their opinions about the fate of the country after this historic contest.
“2016 is unlike any presidential election, certainly in the time that I’ve been teaching [Communication and Society: The Making of the President] and maybe in presidential electoral history,” Myra Gutin, professor of communication, said.
Gutin has been teaching the class every four years since 1988.
The class focuses less on the political stances of the candidates and more on the strategies employed by them and their campaign teams.
“It looks at presidential campaigns in terms of communication—speeches, debates, press releases, public relations, statements,” Gutin said. “Communication is the way we get to know the candidates. It’s their best opportunity to let us know what it is they care about and their priorities.”
Referring to this election as “an outlier,” Gutin explained that many students were disheartened by those chosen to represent the Republican and Democratic parties, and some even are choosing to sit out during the first election in which they are old enough to vote.
“We have two candidates that are not well-liked,” she said. “Many people are looking at the presidential choices as the lesser of two evils. It’s fascinating because Hillary Clinton is very well-qualified to be president, but there are major issues, major questions about her honesty. Donald Trump has no government experience at all; he’s been successful in business. As a candidate, he continually seems to go off-message and make outrageous statements. We’ve never seen anything like that.”
Junior communication studies major Connor O’Neil recognized faults in each of the nominees as the reason some voters struggle making a decision or choose to sit out of the process altogether.
“Donald Trump has had probably the most controversial campaign in election history, with his remarks about Latinos and Muslims and building a wall, to his surprise regarding the tape that came out a few weeks ago where he mentioned groping women and claimed that it was what comes with his fame,” O’Neil said. “[Others] believe Hillary cheated the system to her advantage ever since the Democratic primaries against Senator Bernie Sanders, along with other controversial issues surrounding her campaign including the leaked emails that have been coming out recently. With the amount of scandals coming out on both sides, it’s hard to truly get behind either one of these candidates and believe in the message they are trying to convey.”
To gauge the response of the Rider community to this election, Gutin’s class polled 125 students, 63 percent female and 37 percent male. Sixty-six percent were seniors, 25 percent were juniors and the rest were underclassmen or graduate students. The majority of the sample identified as Democrat.
Seventy-four percent are registered to vote, and 85 percent of that group plans to actually vote.
“Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the two most disliked candidates in election history, and that really affects people because they feel that they deserve better-qualified people to run for the Oval Office,” O’Neil said. “For some people, [80 percent of those surveyed], this will be the first election that they are allowed to vote in, and they will have to choose between these two people? It leaves a really bad taste in their mouths to know that this is the best both of our parties could offer.”
Gutin hasn’t seen this level of disdain directed at presidential nominees for any of the seven other elections during which she taught the class.
“I found, generally speaking, more dissatisfaction in the survey than I’ve seen previously which I think is what we’re seeing nationally,” Gutin said. “Some of the comments that people wrote were really bitter and angry about the nature of the race. I don’t recall anyone in years past writing anything about the election being corrupt or people just generally being disheartened by the process.”
Students not planning to vote were given the option to explain their decision. Some of the survey responses included: “worst candidates ever,” “it’s rigged,” and “we’re screwed either way.”
“It is a shame to see how divided everyone has become because of this election, and I feel like this isn’t how it is supposed to work,” O’Neil said. “I respect everyone’s political opinions, even if there are some that I may not agree with personally. I think it is important to understand why people tend to side toward certain aspects of politics and discuss this with each other without having to act out in an extreme manner.”
Young voters are influenced by the media’s coverage of the political contest, with 88 percent admitting they have paid more attention to the news during this election. Thirty-one voters cite social media as their main source for news, 30 chose CNN, 26 watch television and go online for political updates, 18 get their information from Fox news channel, and 15 of those surveyed specifically wrote Twitter as their main source. Other popular platforms included word-of-mouth, the candidates’ websites, newspapers, radio and political satire shows.
Sixty-two percent of the sample said they intend to vote for Clinton, 10 percent for Trump, and the remaining students did not answer or chose Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, Green Party representative Jill Stein and write-ins Democrat Bernie Sanders and second presidential debate attendee Ken Bone. One participant is leaving the choice to chance: “I will flip a coin,” the student wrote.
“To see that Hillary Clinton had a lot of support from our students over Donald Trump is not surprising to me since New Jersey is a blue state and will not be changing come Election Day,” O’Neil said. “This isn’t to say that people aren’t voting for Trump. To me, that is perfectly fine to hear because I respect anyone’s political opinion especially since this school does tend to lean more towards the liberal side of the spectrum.”
Regardless of the final vote and decided winner, there is much work to be done in America, according to Gutin.
“Whoever wins will have to invest a lot of time and energy in healing the division that has given rise to so much dissatisfaction,” she said. “Whoever has to govern will have his or her hands full.”