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‘Everything is on the line:’ Students face stress, uncertainty ahead of Election Day

As the election approaches, students voice concerns over ability to focus, campus organizations make final push

<p>Students say heightened anxiety is attributed to concerns about the stability of democratic institutions and realizing the impact of politics and policy on their everyday lives.</p>

Students say heightened anxiety is attributed to concerns about the stability of democratic institutions and realizing the impact of politics and policy on their everyday lives.

Some students are expressing concerns over the impacts of election season on their mental health, ability to focus in class and overall stress levels. Despite election anxiety, political organizations on Grounds have been particularly active this cycle, with many students volunteering for local campaigns in addition to the presidential ones. 

Asked what issues they believe are on the line this election season, students cited COVID-19 recovery, reproductive rights, police violence, systemic racism and access to affordable, high quality healthcare. But other students — including second-year College student Molly Hayes, who works for U.Va. alumnus Dr. Cameron Webb’s campaign in VA-05 — noted that this list doesn’t encompass the issues they feel matter. 

“Everything is on the line,” Hayes said. “The list does not end.”

Hayes said that she thinks the heightened anxiety among students is attributable to concerns about the stability of democratic institutions and realizations — brought on by the federal government’s response to the pandemic — about the impact of politics and policy on their everyday lives.

“People are beginning to realize the personal effects that policy/politicians can have on their lives — i.e., how fast the pandemic will go away/when they can return back to normal,” Hayes said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “In the past, many young — often privileged — people have felt that politics doesn't directly affect them. COVID has abolished that misconception.”

Students living on Grounds also expressed concerns about mail-in absentee ballots reaching their home districts by Election Day. 

First-year Engineering student Daniel Bojo said that he waited with friends to order an absentee ballot due to uncertainty about whether the University would send students home or not by Election Day. Bojo said that he now worries that because he waited to order his ballot, his vote may not reach his home district in time.

Despite uncertainty over absentee ballots being counted in time, Bojo said that he thinks University students have been active this year in making plans to vote.

“This year especially, people have been very intentional about making sure that they have a voting plan and making sure that they know what to do,” Bojo said.

Students’ election anxiety over policy outcomes and uncertainty over how to participate in these democratic processes is compounded by rising anxiety about a variety of national crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, according to Kiera Goddu, University Democrats president and fourth-year College student.

“Anxiety about the election is mixed with a lot of other forms of anxiety that are heightened right now,” Goddu said. “There is a lot of turbulence in students' lives because very few things are the same for us right now, including how we vote.”

Both Hayes and Bojo pointed to open political dialogue between students, making definitive voting plans and educating peers on how to vote by mail or in person as strategies that have helped to ease election anxiety.

Despite the stress of this year’s election, political organizations on Grounds like UDems and College Republicans have ramped up campaign efforts. UDems members have been working locally in VA-05, as well as on a variety of close Senate races and in swing states for the presidential election. Goddu said that she appreciates that members have been particularly active this year.

“UDems members have been making calls, sending texts, registering voters, taking students to vote early and participating in literature drops to get involved,” Goddu said. “From today until Election Day, we will be running at least one if not multiple events to help get out the vote.”

Chris Tomlin, president of College Republicans and fourth-year College student, said that he is also proud of the efforts by members to continue canvassing and campaigning despite COVID-19. 

Tomlin said that he believes that voters are more concerned with the results of this election season than in years past and thinks that campaign efforts will continue through Election Day. 

“With more than 25 people signed up to deploy to various areas to knock doors on the last Saturday before Election Day, we have far exceeded my wildest expectations for this year,” Tomlin said.

The stakes of this election, while anxiety-inducing for some, have also made students like Bojo appreciate that this is the first election of many he and his peers will be able to participate in. 

“This election is a start of our generation becoming more active and shaping the future that we want as adults, that we want our kids to have,” Bojo said.