Young Voters speak series: Wisconsin (includes audio stories)

This is the second part in a series on young voters’ opinions on next week’s elections. The first part explored ideas among Florida youth. Today looks at Wisconsin. The two states were chosen because of a disparity in their turnout rates – the Sunshine State ranks 40th in the nation for voters between 18 and 24 while the Badger State is first.

Below is a selection of vignettes representing a cross-section of geographies and political beliefs.

Kyle Matyka, a fifth-year senior at the University of Wisconsin – Platteville, said he’s going to vote for Joe Biden, but he thinks neither candidate shows enough concern for the young population.

State officials care more than politicians at a national level.

“I personally think that Biden is a little bit better than Trump in that regard, but I still don’t think that either of them are concerned as much.”

Matyka, 22, leans Democrat but is not party-affiliated. He believes his vote matters. “The mentality of my vote not mattering or anyone’s single vote not mattering gets into a slippery slope,” Matyka said. “Because it’s never just you that thinks that.”

For 2020, he’s going to go for Joe Biden. “A lot of what Trump has done has not resulted in a lot of good.”

-Jason Grioua

Sawyer Schaefer, a senior at the University of Wisconsin – Platteville, said that he’s going to vote for Joe Biden because he wants change to happen. The public university is on the western edge of the state.

“For 2020, I’m leaning more towards Biden, and the reason for that is just to have change in the office, from where we are now,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer also said that when it comes to politicians caring about the concerns of young voters, he thinks that as the office is mainly older men, young voters don’t have as much of a say as he thinks they should. “I don’t think we’re incorporated in their thoughts or anything,” he said.

A conservative who leans Democratic, Schaefer, 21, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. “I thought it would be good to have a woman in office.” This time, he’s going to vote for Joe Biden.

His main push for voting now is that his vote will cancel someone else’s out. “It’s gonna matter with the aspect that it will cancel out someone else’s vote.”

-Jason Grioua

Mark Orlowski, a student at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, will be casting his first-ever presidential vote this year.

The 21-year-old comes from a family of voters and said that his parents have been voting ever since the first time they could. “My family has voted in every election since my parents were 18.” 

Orlowski, a registered Democrat, said he will vote for Joe Biden because he feels that President Trump is a danger to the country.

“Donald Trump is an anomaly of a president,” he said. “We’ve already seen the damage that he can do in four years, we cannot allow another four years to happen.”

He said that young people need to realize just how important elections are, especially in the state of Wisconsin where votes are close, and one vote can tip an entire election. Orlowski said that he will vote because it is his civic duty.

“Frankly I don’t think you can complain about the results of an election or what your elected officials are doing if you didn’t vote,” he said.

-Jamilka Gibson

John Beauchamp, a student at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, will cast a vote for President Donald Trump this election cycle. The school is about 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee.

“I support President Trump because he most closely aligns with my values as a conservative Republican, primarily on the issues of pro-life,” he said.

The 21-year-old comes from a family of voters and said he firmly believes that all Americans should vote.

“I believe this is a right you’re given as an American, it’s a constitutional right and people in other countries — some of them don’t have this right,” he said. “I think it’s rather wasteful and selfish of someone not to vote.”

Beauchamp said he believes politicians care about the concerns of young people especially the president, who signed an executive order protecting freedom of speech on college campuses.

“I think that colleges are meant to be a place where students can learn and exchange ideas and I think that’s where they need to stay at,” said Beauchamp.

Trump, he said, has shown leadership that Joe Biden could not offer.

-Jamilka Gibson

Kallie Stromenger, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, a city on the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin, believes that everyone who can vote should do it.

“It is important for me to be able to voice a right that I have for making big decisions for my country,” she said. “Every vote counts.”

Stromenger, 18, thinks that neither Trump nor Biden care about young people’s concerns.

“It is really hard coming from the perspective of two people that are older,” she said.

Stromenger plans to vote this year, but she still has not decided for whom.

-Daniela Ghelman

Rosa Gòmez, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said this election is her opportunity to show just how important her vote is.

“This upcoming election is the most important election I have ever experienced in my lifetime,” she said.

Gòmez, who’s 19 and studying political science, said she is drawn towards Joe Biden’s more progressive policies. In addition, she said President Donald Trump has no empathy for minorities.

“I’m a woman, I’m a person of color, I’m queer, and multi-ethnic,” said Gòmez.

She said she believes that this election will make politicians aware of the power young voters have.

“You can look now at an increase of rallies and protests,” said Gòmez. “They’re all being led by young people. We’re leading a movement that is anti-Trump. Even if right now they don’t care about the voices, and the needs of young people, I think they’re going to be made very aware of it.”

-Deniel Dookan

Rachel Hamele has “settled” for Joe Biden as her presidential pick this election.

The 20-year-old University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student is a first-time voter and opted for Biden because President Donald Trump’s ideals don’t align with her own.

Hamele identifies as queer, and has disliked Trump for degrading the LGBTQ+ community during his first presidential campaign.

“I remember waiting in line on Election Day with my dad [in 2016], just angry,” she said. “I felt defeated because I was a young voice and I wanted to be heard.”

Her family has a history of voting in every election. Hamele couldn’t wait to join in and finally have her opinion mean something.

Even though she thinks Biden isn’t as sharp as he used to be, she is volunteering with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to help ensure Trump doesn’t win this election.

Hamele wishes that more politicians would try to cater to young voters.

“I feel like we’re being disregarded because we’re maybe seen as immature and too reactionary,” Hamele said. “If we truly mobilize we can do a lot of things.”

-Selena Stanley

Jaden Mikoulinskii wasn’t thrilled to cast her early vote for “Sleepy Joe Biden,” but she felt like it was the only way to prevent President Donald Trump from serving another term.

“Our options are both kind of terrible, but I chose the lesser of two evils,” she said.

Mikoulinskii is a 20-year-old political science student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She grew up poor in Appleton, an area north of Lake Winnebago and south of Green Bay.

She said she is passionate about creating a better life for herself and others in the community, which is why she’s an active member of the Democratic Party is politically involved.

While volunteering to help students register to vote, she realized that most of her peers weren’t interested in the election.

“It was like pulling teeth to get them to vote,” she said. “Obviously, I care about change a lot more than they do.”

She noticed that most of the uninterested students were from middle-class suburban areas. According to her, not having to care about politics is a privilege their upbringing affords them.

“They’re not on food stamps like I am. They don’t rely on state health care like I do,” she said. “And when it comes to the planet, it’s not really an issue to them.”

-Selena Stanley

Kenna Keenan, a student at University of Wisconsin-Stout in the north-central part of the state, says she will be supporting former Vice President Joe Biden this November.

The 18-year-old cited her disagreements with the president’s policies and his poor stewardship of the economy as motivating her vote. 

“I am voting for Biden, because I don’t agree with a lot of Trump’s ideas and things he has to do with the economy,” she said.

Keenan credits her roommate, a passionate Democrat, for encouraging her to read about the policy differences between the Democratic and Republican candidates. 

“My roommate is a huge Democrat; she was giving me information about both sides and see which one I should go for and now I can honestly say I am a Democrat,” she said.

Manny Garcia

Cecelia McDermott, a 20-year-old senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that Biden the candidate most in tune with young voters.

“Looking at the presidential election, I am engaged with Students for Biden,” she said. “So, I’ve been able to see the inside workings of the campaign and seeing how he’s been listening to young people.”

McDermott said that although Biden was not her first choice during the primaries, she appreciated how he reached out to people in her generation.

“We’ve been able to see, especially in regard to climate policy, that he is listening to young voices and he does really care about what young people are passionate about,” she said. “His new revitalized climate policy plan is reflecting some of the ideas student climate organizations are pushing for.”

-Julio Mendez

Joshua Carlson, a junior at Concordia University Wisconsin and a member of the Concordia College Republicans, said he went door-knocking in his community recently to gather people’s thoughts about the upcoming presidential election. The school is located in Mequon, north of Milwaukee and along the shores of Lake Michigan.

“The only real interesting encounter was our last house,” he said. “She was still super nice—and she was voting for Joe Biden—but she said that if she had the power, she would exterminate all Republicans on the planet.”

Carlson, 20, said he was not offended by the woman’s comment. He said he will be voting for President Donald Trump because the candidate holds a similar worldview to his, which values small government and a deregulated economy.

“Both sides want to make the world a better place, you know, to push for change,” he said. “It’s just the way we go about that change is a little bit different.”

Carlson, who was born in the Philippines and raised in San Diego, moved to Wisconsin to attend college. At the same time that his family moved to Kentucky, which is where he is registered to vote.

-Samantha Morell

This story has been supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.