The defining issues of the 2016 election are already emerging with individuals indicating which issues prove most important to them. According to the spring 2015 Harvard Public Opinion Project poll, social issues and immigration appear to be the most crucial issues for young voters going into the 2016 election. Twenty-one percent of respondents stated that even if they agreed with every position that a presidential candidate held, if the candidate disagreed with their position on same-sex marriage, then they would definitely vote against that candidate. Seventeen percent said they would definitely vote against a candidate if they disagreed with them on the issue of abortion and 16 percent said they would definitely vote against a candidate if they disagreed with their stance on immigration.
While no potential Democratic candidate currently appears to be taking a conservative stance on any of these issues, Republican candidates seem to be more divided. No major Republican candidate has come out in support of gay marriage. However, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has stated that he believes gay marriage should be a states’ rights issue and has noted that he would feel uncomfortable passing a national amendment against gay marriage. Many have also speculated that former governor and likely candidate Jeb Bush is opening up to the issue, if only slightly.
On the issue of abortion, only potential candidate, Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), appears to have a mixed record on the issue. In October 2014, Walker passed an anti-abortion bill that still left the final decision to a woman and her doctor. Walker’s subtle leniency on the issue of abortion has attracted attention. In fact, the influential Republican donor and self-identifying libertarian David Koch recently announced that he would support Walker if he ran for president.
Immigration may prove to be the most divisive issue for Republicans. Some candidates, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have clearly stated that they are against providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and their children. Others such as Jeb Bush, however, stand on the other end of the spectrum and support finding a solution that would aid illegal immigrants in their transition to citizenship. However, it would be a mistake to assume that a pure dichotomy exists within the party on the issue. Many others have taken more moderate stances. Sen. Rubio, for example, helped propose a bipartisan immigration reform bill that garnered support on both sides of the aisle. As Republicans continue to wrestle with the issue of immigration reform, President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration has forced Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton to take more definitive stances.
There is still much time left before either party chooses their presidential nominee for the 2016 election. However, both parties should take careful note of their respective nominee’s views on social issues and immigration, since some young voters are willing to change their vote on the basis of these issues alone. Republicans will have to make the tough decision to either stay true to their conservative beliefs or to open up to more liberal viewpoints. Democrats will also face a tough challenge in deciding just how far left they wish to go in supporting liberal ideals. No matter what direction each party takes, both will have to be cautious with their next moves, because while the race may just be beginning, many young Americans already know what they want to see at the finish line.