UAA students discuss the political issues most important to them 141103-JRE-7981E-0103-small.jpg - Students mark their 2014 election ballots during early voting in UAA's Student Union. Photo credit: James Evans Full view

UAA students discuss the political issues most important to them

In a 2015 poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post, 1,004 adults nationwide voted either the economy, terrorism, health care, immigration or tax policy as the most important issue in their choice for president. Many studies show that even if voters have a wide variety of opinions on different topics, one or two issues are the main factors in making decisions about which candidate to support.

Joye Sumner, a first-year UAA student, major undeclared, went to West High School. Sumner said that reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood healthcare funding are also important to her.

“The abortion controversy of lawfully restricting abortions is important to me because it’s unethical for that to be determined for another person,” said Sumner. “That topic linked with the defunding of Planned Parenthood should be discussed because if you look at what the statistics of what they provide, it’s illogical to defund something that many women seek as a resource.”

Sumner’s thoughts on reproductive rights and healthcare seem to be in line with Alaskan legislation. In August of 2015, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state must pay for medically necessary abortions if it pays for other procedures deemed medically necessary.

Students mark their 2014 election ballots during early voting in UAA's Student Union. Photo credit: James Evans

Elijah Kahula, a resident student at UAA, said the economy is an issue that he also thinks is important.

“Tax reform is an important domestic issue to me because I feel that wealth distribution is unfair,” said Kahula. “I feel like that’s in part because the way our government caters to the one percent. I like the Berns because he’s all about domestic issues. Down with Wall Street, and all that.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has referenced economic reform, education and healthcare reform as critical issues throughout his campaign.

Sticking with the theme of economics, Sumner said strategies involving the minimum wage are part of her consideration for candidates.

“It’s important to me because it’s a big disadvantage when minimum wage rises a lot,” said Sumner. “It dissuades me and probably other people from getting an education that although would be better for individuals and for the economy overall, people want to go with a practical choice.”


While Sumner’s concerns about losing incentivizes for higher education were echoed by some, nearly 70 percent of Alaskans voted to increase the minimum wage to $8.75 in 2014. Economic issues are often the source of political controversy.

Robert Hockema, a Community Assistant for North Hall and political science major, referenced federal spending as one of his top voting priorities.

“A candidate that refuses to re-prioritize our spending efforts is not going to get my vote,” said Hockema. “I really appreciate Rand Paul’s style of fiscal conservatism; we can’t just be tossing money around. We still have a national debt that’s approaching $20 trillion. The excuse that we can’t give veterans adequate healthcare because we don’t have enough money to pay for it is affecting lives.”

Hockema is also part of UAA’s Seawolf Debate program and participates in UAA’s Planned Parenthood chapter, Generation Action.

Zachary Christy, a history major who was recently in Europe, referenced immigration and education as critical issues.

“I have in the last couple years been doing a lot of traveling abroad and with the refugee crisis coming out of Syria, there’s a lot of split opinions on what our moral obligation is to those people,” said Christy. “I think Alaskans are involved with this issue; we’re one of the most diverse states in the nation, and since we all come from a lot of different areas in the world, immigration effects all of us.”

Christy said he wants presidential candidates to discuss what would their plan of action be to create job, education and housing opportunities for refugees and immigrants in order to avoid government welfare dependency. Along with immigration, Christy stressed the importance of education reform.

Students arrive to take advantage of early voting in UAA's Student Union during the 2014 elections.

“I think a lot of rhetoric is being spread around, especially by Bernie Sanders, about what education should look like. I think he brings up really good points about how European countries conduct their education systems, specifically college and how it’s paid for by taxes. I think that appeals to a lot of college students.”

The presidential election is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. USA Today’s 2016 Presidential Poll Tracker showing Donald Trump and Ted Cruz leading in Republican polls and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders leading in Democratic polls.

Alaska’s Primary Election is on August 16, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. In order to vote in this election, you must be registered to vote, or update any registration information, by July 17. To vote in the General Election registration or registration updates must be completed by Sept. 4. More information can be found on

Written by Kathryn Casello