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Michigan college students say neither party talks about issues that matter to them

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, young voters in Michigan turned out more than anywhere else in the country. Democrats flipped a seat in Congress and took full control of the state government. So will young voters turn out again in this critical state for this presidential election? We sat down with a group of students at Wayne State University in Detroit ahead of today's primaries.

JOVAN MARTIN: My name is Jovan Martin (ph). I study global studies. I'm from Detroit, Mich., and I'm a junior here at Wayne State.

ADDISON TRACY: Hello, my name is Addison Tracy (ph). I'm a sophomore and 21 years old. I'm studying sociology and history.

ARMANDO GERGI: My name is Armando Gergi (ph). I'm 21 years old. I am a junior at Wayne State, studying computer science.

KAJA BRAZIEL: Hello, my name is Kaja Braziel. I'm 30 years old. I'm a senior here studying psychology. I do find myself being a lot more apprehensive about voting Democratic, if not being undecided at all and not wanting to vote. It doesn't seem like any choice is really a good choice at all.

FADEL: So what are you going to do?

BRAZIEL: It's either not vote or vote undecided.

FADEL: What would you say when you think about who you want to represent you as an American?

BRAZIEL: For one, with Biden, I believe that we were sold a dream about them addressing issues with student loans and the outrageous and predatory nature of that system, and there's nothing being done for it. There's nothing really substantial. And I understand that it also has to do with the pushback and the support that you're able to garner, but it doesn't stop that from being an issue for me. It doesn't stop that from affecting my thought process of when do I get to be a real adult? When do I get to buy a house?

FADEL: So the economy and your - the bottom line, like being able to put food on the table and buy a house and...

BRAZIEL: Yes 'cause we're at a point where it is not a luxury of having two jobs. It is how do I fit these two jobs into what needs to get done?

FADEL: Are you working and going to school?

BRAZIEL: Yes, I work full time, and I go to school full time. I started going to school full time once I let go of my second job. I'd had a second job for about five years. I've had two to three jobs for five years until I started being full time here. And I can't tell you how much I cried when I had to step down from being full time at both of those jobs and be in school, because this is what I want to do.

FADEL: What about you?

TRACY: This is Addison, and this is the first presidential election I'll be eligible to vote in. Last election, I remember feeling disappointed that I couldn't vote because it felt more meaningful then. It felt like a reaction against Trump. I consider myself to be leftist. There was also what felt like an exciting possibility of other candidates before Joe Biden was chosen. I remember being excited about Bernie Sanders and the possibility of him being president one day, or even Elizabeth Warren, and I remember being disappointed when Joe Biden was chosen then, but it still felt meaningful because it was a way to signal that I and other people were not OK with what Donald Trump was doing in the country. And rolling around to this election and being able to vote in it with probably the same two candidates and two choices, it no longer feels as meaningful. I maybe look at it as a form of harm reduction, in that we can maybe get more things done with Biden in office to protect some human rights, things like protection for queer people or women's rights, having someone who is more protective of abortion rights. So it feels like there is some significance to it, but it's not going far enough.

GERGI: This is Armando. With this question, for me, a lot of topics jump to mind, but at the, you know, forefront of it for me would be U.S. involvement in, like, foreign conflicts, like, as a whole. And I would love to see the U.S. not be an arms provider for, like, the world at large. But also is the LGBT protection, like she touched on - I think it's been a major growing issue, especially in the South and in red states. There's been a - this just regression and you see in, like, increased parent involvement in, like, public schools leading to, like, libraries being emptied out. I saw recently they needed a permission slip signed 'cause they were going to read a book written by a Black person in a Florida school. On the Democrat side, it feels like they're using these issues as a boogeyman, like it's going to get worse if the other side wins. But it's getting worse right now, and they're not doing much about it. It doesn't feel like there's much diversity on the ballot on those topics, so I'm really heavily leaning towards a third party.

FADEL: If you could speak to these candidates that are running in the primaries on Tuesday, what do they need to do to get your support?

BRAZIEL: We need a livable wage. It is absolutely ridiculous that you can work 40-plus hours and not be able to support yourself, let alone a family.

MARTIN: This is Jovan. If you look at how the people at the bottom are living in America, it is mind-blowing. It's insane. And then it just gets ignored. It gets swept under the rug. Like, oh, America's great. Like, we're good. Like, this is good. Like, it's a great country. But at the end of the day in Vegas, there's people living underground in tunnels, and these tunnels flood, and then they die. And it's like, what country is this? Like, where are we really living? And it's the fact that we do deserve more as people. I understand a lot of hardcore liberals that will listen to this and be like, at the end of the day, you have to pick, you have to pick, you have to pick. You know what I mean? You need to pick Biden. And I do understand that. But also at the same time, it's the idea of feeling like you're not listened to, feeling like we're in - we're not actually in a democracy. And it's something that's driven by power and wealth.

GERGI: This is Armando. Personally, I'm not a fan of the rhetoric with, like, this being the most consequential election or Trump being a threat to democracy. Like, you'll end it. If the election of one guy would end our democracy, then how democratic are things really? Like, how strong is the system we're operating with?

FADEL: I see a lot of agreement at the table. Everybody's nodding. So when people are saying this is the most consequential, this is a threat to democracy, you're like, OK, and was - what was last year, and what was the year before?

GERGI: Exactly. It's - yeah.

FADEL: OK.

GERGI: They're pulling out the same slogans and phrases they do for an election year.

BRAZIEL: I want a new boogeyman.

FADEL: You want a new boogeyman?

BRAZIEL: Yeah. This one come every four years. I need a new boogeyman. Maybe it's a bad thing that I want that, but, like, bring me something new to be afraid of.

FADEL: I start to say goodbye. Then MORNING EDITION editor Reena Advani asks one last question.

REENA ADVANI, BYLINE: Do any of you have optimism about anything?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Yeah, I think I'm optimistic about this, about this table. At the end of the day, we are the future, you know what I mean? And if we're able to talk and convey these things, this is democracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: That was Jovan Martin, Kaja Braziel, Armando Gergi and Addison Tracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.