National polling show Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy’s platforms on education, the economy and social issues are likely to shape the voting patterns of younger Mississippians casting ballots in the state’s U.S. Senate runoff election.
Although candidates’ visions for addressing quality-of-life issues, such as the economy and health care, are also important to the state’s older voting base, some concerns, such as student loan forgiveness, are more pressing to Mississippi’s youngest voting bloc.
Mississippians ages to 18 to 34 comprise almost a quarter of the state’s population. And campaigns have taken note by bringing their ground game to college campuses and flooding social media with political ads.
The Clarion Ledger reviewed national surveys highlighting the top concerns of this age group, along with Hyde-Smith and Espy’s stances.
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The majority of respondents to a Harvard poll of 18 - to 29-year-olds released last month support eliminating tuition for students from families who make $125,000 or less per year. Fifty-six percent of the young Americans surveyed also back making community college free for all income levels.
Espy promotes making college more affordable through subsidy plans in which the government would cover a portion of interest owned on student loans.
In an interview with WJTV-Channel 12, he also floated the idea of making the first two years of college tuition-free.
Hyde-Smith’s website does not directly address college affordability but says “the federal government should support states’ efforts to improve educational opportunities for their citizens, but it should not dictate how they get the job done.”
In a previous interview with the Clarion Ledger, Hyde-Smith expressed support for tapping into the state’s public universities as a pipeline for entrepreneurs.
Civically engaged millennials care about social issues, ranging from income inequality and racism to abortion rights and immigration, according to a series of surveys by the University of Chicago-based GenForward.
Asking candidates about their stances on abortion is an election year mainstay, but the question has taken on heightened importance since President Donald Trump’s nomination and the U.S. Senate’s subsequent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Activists have expressed concerns of whether Kavanaugh’s presence on the court could lead to the overturning of Roe V. Wade. Hyde-Smith, who voted to confirm Kavanaugh, says she “opposes taxpayer funding of abortions.” Although her website speaks to confirming judges “who will interpret the law as written, and not legislate from the bench,” the same sentence says Hyde-Smith “will fight for and confirm” judges who are anti-abortion. Espy views Roe v. Wade as settled, but has expressed his personal hesitation about the medical procedure.
“If that’s your decision, and it’s a lawful one and you’re an adult, OK, it’s your choice,” he told the Clarion Ledger last month.
Though few running in the country’s midterms promoted a “Medicare for all” platform, polling indicates at least one electorate has an appetite for a single payer health care system.
Fifty-percent of respondents to Harvard’s Fall 2018 National Youth Poll said they support a system where the federal government would cover health expenses.
Hyde-Smith and Espy have both addressed the need to curb rising health care costs and to protect Mississippians with pre-existing conditions. As expected, they diverge on what role the government should play in forging solutions.
Hyde-Smith supports repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act with a “common-sense, patient-centered health care plan” that limits the government’s role.
In contrast, Espy has questioned the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid, telling a local media outlet in a likely reference to rural hospital closures: “Now those chickens are coming home to roost.” He reiterated those concerns in Tuesday’s televised debate with Hyde-Smith.
Unemployment rate figures from October show Mississippi’s jobless rate at just under 5 percent. Still income inequality, student loan debt and child care costs mean thousands of young Mississippians have to stretch their paychecks.
For Hyde-Smith, creating more jobs and less regulations are two key issues. During a sit down with the Clarion Ledger, she summed up her view: Less “burdensome” regulations means less temptation for companies to go to other states.
“I want to create that environment and foster that environment so that we can have a great workforce and great opportunity for employment,” Hyde-Smith said.
The more-and-better jobs platform has found a home in Espy’s camp as well.
In addition to promoting more investment in workforce training programs, Espy advocates increasing the minimum wage.
Gun law reforms
With midterms occurring six months after a mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that mobilized millions of young Americans to march in support of policies addressing gun violence, candidates’ stances on gun laws are in the spotlight.
Espy labels himself a “moderate” on the issue who supports “common sense limitations.”
Hyde-Smith has an endorsement from the National Rifle Association and supports policies allowing concealed carry holders to carry in other states.