Manhattan Caucus: What Issues Will Matter Most in This Election?

by Sophia Sakellariou & Kyla Guilfoil, Senior Writer & Staff Writer

Social justice, climate change, and healthcare policy are a few issues that have always been at the forefront of candidates’ agendas. However, this year these issues have taken on greater significance as 2020 has proven to be tumultuous in all three areas. With a global pandemic, raging wildfires on the West Coast, and an economy comparable to the 2008 financial crisis, this year’s candidates have a lot on their shoulders. Where each candidate stands on each issue and their plans of action not only determine whether or not they are elected, but how their choices will have lasting effects on our nation’s future.


After the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country over six months ago, President Trump has faced great backlash in the way he handled the situation. The United States has one of the highest number of recorded cases and the poorest response of the world’s wealthiest nations. 

This has led to great criticism of how Trump has handled the situation, especially after information surfaced that he purposely downplayed the virus, claiming that he knew how bad it was in an interview with renowned journalist Bob Woodward. In the beginning, Trump continually compared the virus to a flu that would go away in warmer weather and even as death tolls passed 50,000 near the end of April, he undermined its devastation by claiming it would simply “go away.”  

According to an article in Everyday Health, Trump’s COVID-19 efforts have been focused mainly on rural areas, providing federal funding to tele-healthcare providers in 38 states and supplying $225 million for testing in healthcare clinics. 

However, as death tolls continue to climb, Trump’s response is viewed as a failure by critics. Even though he signed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package back in March that included direct cash payments to Americans, additional funding for hospitals, and $500 billion in loans to the economy, it proved ineffective as many people remain unemployed and uninsured long after the aid was halted.   

Democratic nominee Joe Biden has a five-pronged plan for fighting COVID-19 which includes providing free testing to all and hiring 100,000 contact tracers, ensuring enough personal protective equipment, supporting science-backed vaccines, safeguarding at-risk populations, and ensuring that re-opening measures are effective and safe. 

“The virus spread to me is the issue that matters the most since it has affected all parts of our nation,” said Diane Yomkil, a senior and treasurer of the Black Student Union. “My vote will be based on which presidential candidate can actually lead us through this crisis, protect our families and do everything he can to find us a cure.”

The candidates also differ in their views of the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, that Trump has vowed to eliminate since his election in 2016 and something Biden vows to bring back.  

“Healthcare is a very important issue,” Margaret Groarke, a professor of political science, said. “We have one candidate, Joe Biden, who was part of the team that got us the biggest healthcare reform since the establishment of Medicare in 1965, and he has said that he wants to work more on that and make that work for more Americans. That has led to more people being covered, it’s also led to more complaints about the cost of healthcare, and on that issue, the other candidate, Donald Trump, who’s running for reelection, ran saying he wanted to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. He is currently in court to try and end the Affordable Care Act. He did promise an alternative for it, which we have not yet seen. So there’s a real clear choice between the candidates on healthcare.”

As October nears and the end of the virus is nowhere in sight, people are increasingly concerned about how and when the virus will be brought under control, making healthcare a significant factor in people’s decision making process.  

The Economy 

With the massive changes to our economy and society due to the global pandemic, people are struggling financially with the loss of employment, either temporarily or permanently, and a stock market that has reached big-time lows. Prior to COVID-19, the American economy was in a positive place and unemployment was at an impressive low. This was a major positive for Trump’s campaign, but now both sides are in question. 

Biden’s economic plans fall under his “Build Back Better Campaign.” Within that, he pledges to work to build a modern infrastructure and a fair-minded, clean energy future that aims to mobilize American inventiveness and put Americans to work. Biden also hopes to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour and work towards establishing better benefits for people with disabilities. 

Representing the Republican party, incumbent Trump hopes to reduce the US trade deficit. This means he aims to have American exports outweigh our imports. It also includes adding tariffs to imported goods. Trump also plans to reduce the national debt by halting federal waste. To do this he plans to cut taxes, and cut the Department of Education funding by $10.4 billion, and cut the Department of Energy budget by $2.2 billion. Trump does not plan on raising the minimum wage. 

“People who are in their working years generally pay a lot more attention to that state of the economy, and how that’s impacting their own personal life,” Groarke said. “Some people have suffered real financial losses in this pandemic, have lost their jobs, or are working for an institution where there’s been big budget cuts. Other people have felt little or no impact, they’re merely working from home instead of working in the office. So I think that that’s probably what voters between 30 and 60 are looking at.”

The economy is a big concern for young voters, especially young graduates who are entering a workforce that is just as challenging, if not more so to enter than the workforce during the 2008 financial crisis. Companies are making major cuts and entry level positions are increasingly competitive.

“The economy is an important issue for me because I will be graduating soon,” Giuliana DeLuca, a senior Communications major and former President of Government and Politics Club, said. “Currently, I am having a hard time getting an internship. In a few months, I will need to find a job and right now the job market is very competitive, especially now with the pandemic. In addition, I will have to start paying my student loans. This could be difficult if the economy is not doing well and the job opportunities are low.” 

The pandemic has not only had a major impact on the economy from its onset, but will have ramifications for years to come as the process to re-enter workspaces is unclear with threats of the virus still apparent.

“Even if I get a job, I want to know that I am in a safe environment,” DeLuca said. “I hope that a vaccine will be available so that everyone can begin to recover physically, emotionally, and financially from this pandemic.”

Social Justice

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, protests have erupted across the country advocating for social justice and re-igniting the Black Lives Matter movement. Social justice advocates have pushed policy makers to re-open cases such as that of Breonna Taylor who was shot and killed by police in her own home, advocating for police reforms and that the officers involved be brought to justice.

“2020 has brought back up many social justice and issues that have been consistent in American history, and combined with the political landscape will matter more in this election,” Sydney Collins, the Democratic Representative of the Government and Politics Club, said. “For example, even though racial justice and racism in history have been major issues that people have given their lives to promote and gain, during the resurgence of BLM a concrete plan of action on how to combat institutionalized racism will and does matter.” 

News coverage of protests across the nation has brought social justice reform to the forefront of people’s agendas.

“I think the economy and racial injustices due to police brutality are the main issues that will matter the most in this upcoming election, because those are the topics that are being mentioned in the news most of the time,” Yomkil said. “The death of George Floyd and so many others generated a lot of protests.”

The majority of Trump’s plan to improve social equality is based on the economy, with the notion that a strong economy is the solution to race conflicts. Trump’s model for social justice reform includes: providing better access to capital for small business owners in minority communities, an executive order that will encourage police departments to meet certain professional standards when using force or de-escalation tactics, and a program to bring social workers into work with police officers.  

Biden’s social justice reform includes “The Biden Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice.” His aim is to reduce the crime rate and the number of people incarcerated as well as address the systemic racism found in the American court system. Biden aims to focus our criminal justice system on redemption and rehabilitation rather than punishment. 

He also plans to invest in “Education for All” to help increase opportunities for those in minority communities that lack resources, increasing federal funding for mental health and substance use disorder services and research for those without resources. Additionally, Biden hopes to connect people with social services and support when possible, instead of with prisons, to help stimulate our society. 

Climate Change

This year’s forest fire season on the West Coast has been one of the worst seasons on record with nearly four million acres burned, 27 confirmed deaths, and many more people missing. There are still four months left of the season and there are concerns about how much more damage will be done in that time.

In a meeting on Monday, Sept. 14, Gov. Gavin Newsom and a group of California officials pleaded with Trump for aid, to which he replied, “it will get cooler,” and “just watch, I don’t think science knows actually.” The Trump administration has made several cutbacks on climate change policy enacted by the Obama administration, and the above sentiments echo his history of calling climate change into question. According to an article in Politico, these rollbacks will cause the U.S. to emit an extra 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by 2035. As California continues to struggle, Trump has made several threats to cut off funding to California and said it was to blame for the devastating fires. 

In response, Biden has called Trump a “climate arsonist” placing him in stark contrast on the issue. According to the Biden campaign website, Biden’s plan is to achieve a 100% clean energy economy and reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050. To do so, he pledged to put a federal investment of $1.7 trillion over the next ten years and leverage additional private sector and state and local investments that total more than $5 trillion. 

“While 5 million acres are burning in the West of our country, certainly what you think should be done or not done about climate change is a very significant issue,” Groarke said. “The young people that I know on campus and high school students are very focused on the racial justice issues, on the climate issues, and so I expect those will probably be the two that attract the most attention [in this election].” 

Climate change legislation carries great weight among younger voters and may drive their decision come November. 

“Issues related to climate, racial, and economic justice are the ones that matter most to me,” Collins said. “Each is extremely important, and holding all of our elected officials, especially those in the highest and most prominent offices is important. There are many issues that need to be addressed in order for our country to live up to the messages that it preaches, and the best way for any of us to make a difference is to rock the vote.”

The United States Postal Service 

The US Postal Service will play a significant role in this year’s election since voters may opt for mail-in ballots over in-person voting due to pandemic related concerns. 

However, back in August, Trump admitted that he was intentionally blocking federal funding to the USPS to discourage the use of mail-in voting for the November election, claiming that results could be riddled with fraud if mail ballots were widely used. This attempt to undercut election results, comes as a shock since in-person voting poses a big risk for voters with pre-existing health conditions this year, for whom contracting the virus may be fatal. This is a direct infringement on citizens’ rights to exercise their civic duty.

As a result, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the postal workers union which consists of over 300,000 workers, endorsed Biden’s presidential candidacy. The NALC president said that the move was necessary for the survival of the USPS. Throughout the pandemic, postal workers were on the front lines delivering services to the public, placing their own health at risk. However, the current administration still failed to provide them with adequate funding to support this agency during the pandemic.  

According to an article in NBC News, congressional Democrats backed by Biden have sought $3.6 billion to help prepare states for an expected high volume of mail-in votes, as well as $25 billion to further strengthen the Postal Service, which Trump opposes. The mounting chaos surrounding the USPS can have an affect on the election once ballots are cast and counted. 

“A lot of people are going to vote absentee and those ballots will not get counted until after the election in most states,” Groarke said. “So we can’t expect to know on election night and we have to [have] patience. There’s going to be a lot of hysteria and a lot of talk about fraud, and we have to dial back the hysteria.”

The Supreme Court

The passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this past weekend has drastically shifted the focus of the campaigns of the presidential candidates. RBG’s passing not only signifies the loss of an icon, but an opportunity to shift the balance in power of the Supreme Court for years to come.

Senator Mitch McConnell vowed just hours after her death, that he would move towards a vote to swiftly fill her vacancy on the Court by a Trump nominee. This could be Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee in his four years in office, a rare opportunity for a sitting president. 

This swift response has not only received criticism for being inconsiderate of the loss of a life well-lived, but Democrats are fighting back against McConnell and others, citing Republicans’ own concerns from 2016.

In 2016, Obama had the opportunity to fill a vacant position on the SCOTUS 10 months before his second term ended, but was barred from the decision over opposition from Republicans and McConnell himself, over claims that the choice should be up to the people.

Now with the election a mere six weeks away, Democrats are fighting back over this drastic change in opinion. If the vote over Trump’s appointees goes through, the balance in power will be in favor of conservatives with a 6-3 majority in the Court. This is significant as decisions brought to the Court will likely lean to the right, having a great effect on legislation for years to come. 

This has drastically changed the focus of the candidates’ focus in the final stretch of campaigning. Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris vowed to fill the vacancy with a woman of color if given the chance, taking center stage of their promises, if elected. There is much uncertainty surrounding whether or not Trump’s last act of his term will be this monumental decision.