Why college students are worried about the COVID-era election

COVID and race relations were the two most important issues for students
By: | September 25, 2020
Some 70% of college students plan to vote for Joe Biden compared to only 18% for President Donald Trump—but enthusiasm is low for both candidates, according to a survey.(GettyImages/Ariel Skelley)Some 70% of college students plan to vote for Joe Biden compared to only 18% for President Donald Trump—but enthusiasm is low for both candidates, according to a survey.(GettyImages/Ariel Skelley)

Most college students are “absolutely certain” they will vote but about half doubt the legitimacy of the 2020 election between Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, a new report finds.

COVID and race relations were the two most important issues for students, according to the survey, by marketing research firm College Pulse.

Women and Democrats expressed the highest certainty they would vote but students had several concerns about the fairness of the election:

  • 81% believe special interest groups have more influence than voters.
  • 55% say the election will not be administered well.
  • 50% worry about problems at polling places, such as long lines or broken voting machines.
  • 49% say the election won’t be fair and open.
  • 48% worry about foreign interference.
  • 46% will doubt the outcome of the election if the winner loses the popular vote.
  • 46% are concerned about low voter turnout.
  • 31% will doubt the outcome if most voters cast ballots by mail.

The survey sought to gauge the political outlook of college students in the wake of the COVID outbreak and ongoing social justice protests.


More from UB: 20 ways colleges are prepping for Election Day


More than seven in ten students say they are following election news but only 27% are paying close attention.

Biden vs. Trump

As for the candidates, 70% plan to vote for Biden compared to only 18% for Trump—but enthusiasm is low for both candidates.

While 49% view Biden favorably, 19% feel the same about Trump. The candidates’ unfavorability ratings are 51% for Biden and 81% for Trump.

Students also ranked their most important issues:

  • COVID-19: 33%
  • Race relations: 22%
  • Climate change: 12%
  • Inequality: 7%
  • Economy: 7%
  • White House leadership: 6%
  • Healthcare: 5%
  • Education: 2%

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.