The heavily anticipated presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is finally here. Surrounding this race has been political tension that many would say determines the future of the United States, or as Joe Biden puts it, “a battle for the soul of America.” Given the importance of the election, many students at Willamette have felt some stress from it and realize its significance. This realization has been continuously shaping political culture both in Salem and on campus and the anxieties that come with these unusual circumstances.
When students were asked why this election was so important, they had a lot to say. Vice President of Willamette’s College Democrats Andrew Hull (‘23) gave insight into why it felt this way, saying that given the current president’s previous actions, people have reason to be concerned. “I think it’s just because we’ve had four years of Trump presidency, and I think people have seen what’s happened in that time period, and have realized what could potentially happen if we allow him to serve another four years,” he shared in an interview.
One example brought up was climate change, as well as the ways in which COVID-19 was and is being dealt with is problematic from the perspectives of many American citizens. Danielle Groff (‘23) shared a similar sentiment, adding that “with climate change and a lot of social issues we’re facing right now, [the election is] very important for how we want to shape our future.”
People have found that both on campus and across the country, the importance of voting has been greatly emphasized on social media. President of Willamette’s College Republicans Alexander Knorr shared his thoughts on fellow students and what approach they took to the election and voting. He thinks that “for a lot of people it easily becomes completely absorbing and can really get into your skin pretty easily, and the results of that are tensions are really high on campus,” saying that this adds to the overall stress levels on campus. Later in the interview, he spoke on the divide between political parties, adding, “I wish people didn’t slip into an ‘us vs. them’ mindset, and to just realize that we’re all in this together.”
Despite the pandemic having isolating effects on the population, students have still been able to come together and share their thoughts on the election experience as a whole. On Nov. 2, the Policy, Politics Law & Ethics department hosted a meeting where students were able to share their thoughts on candidates and propositions. In this space, students shared their anxieties about the election and were able to get some relief and company.
The vote by mail system is another aspect of this election that has set it apart from previous years. Hull said that since he is from Washington, where voting by mail has been in place since 1983, he finds the system to be effective. Groff agreed, adding that “it was very easy,” and said “I feel confident that my ballot will be valid.”
One potential issue that was raised by students at the PPLE meeting and by students both off and on campus was the risk of voter fraud. However, the general consensus was that this does not seem to pose too much of an issue. Hull said there have been some isolated instances where this has posed a threat, “there have only been a handful of cases of attempted voter fraud, out of hundreds of millions of votes cast in many different elections.”
Knorr said that another potential problem, however, is “a lot of people are going to try and vote [by mail] on the day itself, so it’s going to be nuts.”
Overall, the outcome of the election seems relatively unclear. Some students like Knorr shared concerns that the popular vote has little to no significance in the long run, saying that “in the end, it’s the electoral college that has a say.”
Others, like Hull, are more “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome. He added, “people care about different things, and they’ve seen four years of Trump, and a lot of voters are turned off by what’s happened in the past four years, and want a change.”