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This Voter Group Could Sway 2020 Election

A photo of Cody Steed, a member of College Republicans at Florida Atlantic University.
A photo of Cody Steed, a member of College Republicans at Florida Atlantic University.

Ian Martens, a rising junior at Furman University in South Carolina, says President Donald Trump has “done a great job building our economy up,” and he likes the fact that Trump “stands up for Second Amendment rights,” or the right to bear arms.

“Most importantly, he is the most pro-life president,” Martens told VOA, calling that political issue for him “a debate between life and death.”

While the youth vote -- now the largest voting bloc in the U.S. -- is predicted to have a significant impact on the 2020 election, young white males like Martens may play an outsized role in determining the election.

Young white males “form a sizable and sometimes disproportionate swath of the American electorate,” reported the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

Young white males came out in force in the 2016 presidential election: One million more young white males went to the polls and cast a vote than young white females, and they preferred Republican candidate Trump to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by 22 percentage points.

And two years later in the 2018 midterm elections, while the majority – 60% -- of young voters ages 18 to 29 identified with the Democratic Party, more than four in 10 young white men said they favored Trump, according to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.

They voted more than Latino and Black men in the 2018 midterm elections, according to the Tufts analysis of 2018 Census Current Population Survey (CPS) data, and they make up a larger portion of the population in “some pivotal swing states like Iowa, Ohio, and New Hampshire,” CIRCLE reported.

Top issues

Priorities among young white male voters are “Make America Great Again and the gun rights movements,” according to CIRCLE.

“I support President Trump because he brought up issues career politicians have neglected for decades, from highlighting working-class men and women all across this country, addressing the needs of farmers to protecting national interests overseas,” Cody Steed, a member of College Republicans at Florida Atlantic University, wrote in an email to VOA.

“I feel that he truly cares for the progression and success of this country,” Steed said.

Gun rights are pivotal for many young voters. In 2018, 77 percent of young American voters said that gun control was an important issue in determining their vote, according to the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.

The anti-abortion movement is important to some young white male voters, as well. Overall, 46% of men overall oppose abortion, according to a 2019 Gallup poll.

“The pro-life debate is the most important ‘political’ issue in my opinion, because it is most directly a debate between life and death,” Martens said. “Each abortion is the ending of a life, so that is why I am most passionate about that because I am not in favor of ending precious babies’ lives.”

By comparison, the same poll found 43% of women overall identified as supporting abortion rights, with 62% between the ages of 18 and 29. Forty-six percent of these women identified as “total Hispanic or nonwhite.”

Young white men join the ranks of “disaffected, middle-aged, working-class white men [who] were credited with one of the biggest political upsets in American presidential politics,” VOA reported.

At a Trump youth rally in Phoenix June 23, young white men took the stage with President Trump, one of his adult sons, and several other lawmakers and officials – all older white males.

“What a day at the @TrumpStudents convention in Phoenix,” tweeted Twitter user @realRyanShear after the youth rally in Phoenix. “So many great speakers and stories. Young conservatives won’t back down to the leftist mob that wants to silence our freedom of thought and speech. #Trump2020”

One engine for young white men is S4T, founded in 2015 by Campbell University students Ryan Fournier and John Lambert, that has “over 5,000 volunteers, 280 chapters, and over 13,000 vote pledges,” as of October 2019, it states on its website.

Confidence to act

A 2018 study from CIRCLE showed that young white men’s “self-perceived civic efficacy was relatively high,” 39 percent of them hold a belief that they are “well-qualified” to engage in politics, a higher percentage than that of young white women or of young men and women of color.

Despite this, however, a majority of – 60% -- “young white men were the least likely subgroup of youth to feel heard by their elected officials.”

But these voters do not uniformly echo the concerns of older white men in the Republican Party.

A study done by Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics found that many young Americans support getting rid of the Electoral College as well as private health insurance. Additionally, a “majority” of those surveyed support background checks for assault weapons.

“I would also like Trump to support and advance bipartisan legislation protecting clean air and water, investment in infrastructure, and economic support for disadvantaged communities in the form of a system different than our current assistance programs.” Steed said.

“I would very much like to see advanced … his personal promise in 2016 to broaden the overall party to be more inclusive of same-sex marriage and individuals who identify with the LGBT community,” Steed added.

“We are blessed with tremendous freedoms because of our founders, and that is something to celebrate and love, and President Trump does,” Martens said.

A Virginia native, Martens hasn’t campaigned for Trump, but says he likes talking with friends about politics and hopes that “people can see my side of things and I can explain it with compassion and kindness.” What’s needed in the U.S. is a “cultural shift,” Martens says, such as a return to traditional religious values.

“A lot of conservative values are rooted in religion and religious principles and values, but as people move away from religion, we are losing the important aspects religion brings to our communities,” he said.

Conservatives not Republicans

Since the 2018 midterm elections, however, the president has faced criticisms for his handling of a variety of issues, including foreign interference in U.S. politics, but also the more recent coronavirus pandemic and protests caused by racial strife.

Among the critics are some conservative white males -- ardent conservatives or Trump supporters four years ago, but who now have taken to social media to explain how they’ve changed their mind in whom they will support this this election year.

“I want to say to every woman, Muslim, member of the LGBTQ+ community, minorities, victims of sexual assault, and many others, I’m sorry,” Zach from North Carolina said in a video tweet from @RVAT2020, who said he voted for Trump in 2016.

“You deserve so much more than a man who … enacts legislation that moves us backwards on social issues and individual liberty,” he said.

Trey, an 18-year-old from Texas, said he was “extremely excited to be able to vote for the Republican candidate to finally uphold the conservative values I’ve been raised with and that I believe in.”

“I’ve been waiting for this year for a while,” he explained in a video on Twitter.

“The Christian faith that Donald Trump claims to uphold is in no way, shape or form apparent in the way he acts. It’s all meant to be a facade to court the Republican vote, and his policies have steered what Republicanism and conservatism mean in a completely different direction than in what I believe in,” he said.

Trey said he would be voting for someone who “upholds character, leadership, the ability to court both sides of the political aisle. … and that is certainly not Donald J. Trump.”

"I do think that America can return to that shining city on a hill that (former President Ronald) Reagan once referred to us as,” tweeted @PrestonBrailer, who attends the University of Pennsylvania and describes himself as conservative. “But first, I think, Donald Trump and the current GOP leadership need to be voted out.”

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Decline of American students in China could mean fewer experts

FILE - A view of a portion of the campus of Wuhan University in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, April 11, 2020. The number of American students studying in China has dropped dramatically in recent years.
FILE - A view of a portion of the campus of Wuhan University in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, April 11, 2020. The number of American students studying in China has dropped dramatically in recent years.

The number of Americans studying in China has dropped dramatically in recent years from around 11,000 in 2019 to 800 this year, and the slump is so bad that some China scholars worry the United States could lose a generation of "China experts" as a result.

David Moser, an American who has lived and worked in China for more than three decades and is the former academic director of China Educational Tours (CET) in Beijing, said that “I haven’t seen an American student in years.”

CET, which was launched in 1982, is a Washington-based organization that recruits American students for short-term language and culture studies in China. Moser said that his position as academic director recently went away and that the organization continues to struggle to get more students to return to China.

CET once carried out short-term study-abroad programs in several cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin and Hangzhou. Now, the program is only available in Beijing and Shanghai. Harbin's page on the website shows that programs are "suspended until spring 2025."

"We have already lost a very crucial generation who would need to be continuing right now in China with studies or whatever,” Moser said, “so that 10 years from now, they would already be ... very experienced China hands [experts].”

During the 2011-12 school year, the number of American students in China was around 15,000. Since then, with Xi Jinping’s rise as China’s leader and growing frictions between the two countries, the number has declined, dropping dramatically after the pandemic to about 200 at its lowest point.

Loss of understanding

Moser said the lack of talented people who understand China is undoubtedly a huge loss for the United States.

"You really need people who understand the two academic systems, the two college systems, and the way these things work in order to not make a huge mistake,” he said.

Compared with China, however, CET's projects in Taiwan are in full swing.

Moser said CET started its first summer study abroad program at National Taiwan University in 2022, which attracted more than 120 American students. He said a program was set up in Taiwan because too few American students wanted to go to China.

He said he believed that starting around 2008, when Beijing held its first Olympics, China’s pollution and human rights violations turned some American students away, and that the trend has not reversed.

FILE - A Fudan University sign is seen on the campus in Shanghai, Dec. 18, 2019.
FILE - A Fudan University sign is seen on the campus in Shanghai, Dec. 18, 2019.

China's strict lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic was also a crucial turning point. At that time, many foreigners, including American students, left China. After the Chinese government suddenly lifted the lockdown at the end of 2022, most foreigners did not immediately return.

China's increasingly aggressive posture on the international stage under Xi, and its hostile propaganda against the West at home, is likely to have prevented foreign talents from visiting China for cultural and business exchanges.

A revised counterespionage law that took effect on July 1, 2023, has also made many Americans hesitant to travel to China, let alone study there.

As U.S.-China relations deteriorate, official academic exchanges have also been coldly received. Former U.S. President Donald Trump suspended all Fulbright exchange programs to China and Hong Kong in July 2020.

After the counterespionage law negatively affected China, the Chinese government sought to extend goodwill at the level of people-to-people exchanges. Xi announced during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in San Francisco in November 2023, "In order to expand exchanges between the people of China and the United States, especially the younger generation, China is willing to invite 50,000 American young people to come to China for exchanges and studies in the next five years."

High school students visit

In January 2024, more than 20 students from Muscatine High School in Iowa visited Beijing, Hebei and Shanghai. In March, 24 students from Lincoln High School and Steilacoom High School in Washington state also boarded a plane from San Francisco to Beijing.

Wenzhou University and Kean University in New Jersey signed an agreement to jointly establish Wenzhou-Kean University in May 2006. At the time, Xi was the party secretary of Zhejiang, home province of Wenzhou, and he attended the signing ceremony in 2006.

In a letter to Kean's president on June 7, Xi encouraged universities in the two countries to strengthen exchanges and cooperation. However, three days later, four American teachers who were giving short-term courses at Beihua University in Jilin, China, were stabbed by a Chinese man. Chinese officials quickly deleted the relevant content on social media, and a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson called the incident an "accident" that would not affect relations between the two countries.

Meghan Burke, a former sociology professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, said that although the attack on American teachers was a shocking and unexpected incident, she still hoped that it would not affect Americans' confidence in studying and traveling in China.

"I think it's always been there, but I think with the pandemic, there was some really racially loaded misinformation and fears that I wouldn't be surprised if that came into play in some students' and some families' decisions about where they were willing to go abroad," she said.

Asked about the 800 American students in China today, Burke said that was a big regret for the United States.

"Language is key to understanding culture. So, any limitations on learning Mandarin or other Chinese languages only hold back our ability to have a broader and more complex intercultural understanding and international perspective that I think benefits everyone who is involved in those conversations," Burke said.

In contrast, 300,000 Chinese students are studying in the United States.

"Asymmetry is bad for China, but it's much worse for the United States because asymmetry is in one direction, which is towards us,” Moser said. “The Chinese have very good knowledge of the U.S., of its culture, of its government, everything."

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

Campus protests cause some students to rethink US colleges

FILE - Students continue to maintain a protest encampment in support of Palestinians on the Columbia University campus April 24, 2024, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City.
FILE - Students continue to maintain a protest encampment in support of Palestinians on the Columbia University campus April 24, 2024, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City.

Campus protests at U.S. colleges, and the accompanying unrest and violence, are causing some international students to rethink their plans to study in the United States.

Writing in the Straits Times, Vihanya Rakshika reports that safety concerns are motivating parents to look elsewhere for their children’s higher education. (June 2024)

Which schools have biggest alumni networks?

FILE - In this March 14, 2019, photo, students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.
FILE - In this March 14, 2019, photo, students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.

In addition to considering the cost and reputation of a school, prospective students should consider alumni networks – connected graduates who can help with the job search once classes are complete.

Writing in University Magazine, Anwar Abdi takes a look at the 25 U.S. universities with the largest alumni networks. (June 2024)

Report: Number of college dropouts remains high

FILE - The name for the University of Southern California is displayed at a campus entrance in Los Angeles, April 16, 2024.
FILE - The name for the University of Southern California is displayed at a campus entrance in Los Angeles, April 16, 2024.

Enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities is increasing, but the number of dropouts remains high, according to a report in the Chronicle of High Education.

Amanda Friedman writes that more former students are returning to school, but many want shorter-term programs, such as certificate programs. (June 2024)

Xi wants more exchanges between US, Chinese universities

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping talks to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not seen) at the Great Hall of the People, on April 26, 2024, in Beijing, China.
FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping talks to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not seen) at the Great Hall of the People, on April 26, 2024, in Beijing, China.

Mutual understanding between China and the United States can be improved by having more university exchanges between the two countries.

According to Bloomberg, Chinese President Xi Jinpin told Xinhua News Agency that exchanges could develop young ambassadors who understand both countries. (June 2024)

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