Voting by the Issues Get and Stay Informed

If you’re a student, it’s never been more important that you know where each party stands on education issues in the 2016 election.

The Student Voter’s Guide to Campaign Issues

Let’s face it — the average voter spends more time researching hypothetical illnesses on the internet than she does researching who to vote for. But dedicating a little time to finding out where different candidates and political parties stand on key issues allows you to cast a more educated vote. This year, when your vote in the presidential election may help decide whether or not middle-class students get free college tuition, researching the issues is more important than ever.

The good news is that you don’t have to declare a minor in political science to get educated on where national and local candidates stand. We’ve put together a cheat sheet highlighting key voting issues in the 2016 election that will help you make an educated decision when you head to the voting booth this year.

In 2016, candidates aren’t just debating what the government should do to ensure quality education – they are debating how much education should cost. If you’re a student, it’s never been more important that you know where each party stands on education issues in the 2016 election.

Who will help provide the best education to the most candidates at an affordable price?

voters-guide-education

Rising College Tuition

In-state tuition at public colleges has increased by 296% in the last 20 years. Each political party has different proposals on how to make a college education affordable for all, ranging from free public school tuition to privatizing accreditation requirements.

Source: U.S. News & World Report

Student Loan Debt

The class of 2015 graduated with an average of $35,000 in student debt, the most on record, according to the Wall Street Journal. Find out how each candidate plans to help graduates manage debt.

School Choice

Conservatives prioritize school choice and think that charter schools and vouchers will improve educational opportunities for K-12 students while liberals want federal funding to remain focused on the public school system.

Party Platform

Democrats

  • Support free community college tuition for all students
  • Want to cut interest rates on student loans for future undergraduates
  • Want to make it possible to discharge their debts in bankruptcy and put a moratorium on student loan payments to all federal loan borrowers when needed
  • Support charter schools as a supplement to the public education system, not a replacement

Republicans

  • No stance on regulating costs, but oppose “any regulation that increases college costs” and support decoupling accreditation from federal financing to lower costs
  • Oppose the federal government issuing or managing student loans
  • No stance on discharging student loan debt in bankruptcy
  • Support school choice via charter schools, education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits for school choice

Libertarians

  • Support eliminating the Department of Education and returning education control to local governments
  • Support parents’ choice in school choice

Green Party

  • Supports free college tuition for public vocational, 2-year and 4-year colleges for qualified students
  • Supports student loan forgiveness for students and parents
  • Supports public schools and opposes the privatization of public school administration (e.g., charter schools)
The Economy

The economy is always a key issue in the presidential election. This year, presidential candidates present deeply different approaches to creating jobs, ensuring fair trade agreements, increasing minimum wage, and leveraging taxes.

Who has the best plan to create jobs and stimulate the economy?

voters-guide-economy

Party Platform

Democrats

  • Oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
  • Supports the Dodd-Frank Act (Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act)
  • Support raising the minimum wage to $15/hour
  • Support increasing taxes for the wealthiest U.S. citizens, especially those who earn more than $732,000 a year, and leaving taxes for the middle-class unchanged

Republicans

  • Oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
  • Supports repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act (Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act)
  • Believe minimum wage should be decided by states
  • Support tax decreases for citizens of all income levels and eliminating federal income tax for individuals earning under $25,000 per year

Libertarians

  • Oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
  • Support free-market banking and oppose all bailouts
  • Support a repeal of federal income tax and dissolution of the IRS

Green Party

  • Opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • Supports legislation that reduces power of corporations and redefines the legal structure of corporations
  • Supports a universal basic income for all adults
  • Supports tax reform that simplifies the tax code, increases taxes for corporations and the wealthy and minimizes or eliminates taxes for middle and lower-income earners
The Environment

More than 60% of Americans are concerned about global warming, according to Gallup. But that’s not the only environmental issue up for debate in the 2016 election. Each party also has strong opinions about renewable energy, drilling on protected lands and more.

How do we preserve the environment for future generations?

voters-guide-environment

Party Platform

Democrats

  • Support legislation that helps get us to 50% of energy from clean energy sources
  • Support the Clean Power Plan
  • Oppose the Keystone Pipeline
  • Support a carbon tax
  • Support reform of fossil fuel leasing on public lands and oppose drilling in Alaska and off the Atlantic Coast
  • Support the Paris Agreement

Republicans

  • Oppose mandatory labeling of genetically modified food
  • Want to repeal the Clean Power Plan
  • Aim to complete the Keystone Pipeline as soon as possible
  • Oppose any carbon tax
  • Support increasing domestic energy production, including on public lands, to reduce reliance on foreign oil
  • Oppose both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement

Libertarians

  • Believe a free market should determine best practices for environmental conservatism

Green Party

  • Supports drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions enforced by stiff financial incentives and penalties, including a carbon tax
  • Support shutdown of all nuclear plants within 5 years
  • Support rapid reduction of non-renewable energy sources via conservation, power grid decentralization, and investment in mass public transportation that is not dependent on fossil fuels
Healthcare

Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, more than 7 million previously uninsured U.S. citizens have enrolled in health insurance. But 28.6 million people are still uninsured, and opponents to nationalized health care are running on a platform to repeal so-called “Obamacare.”

The 2016 election may decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

voters-guide-healthcare

Party Platform

Democrats

  • Support the Affordable Care Act
  • Support an expansion of Medicaid
  • Support caps on out-of-pocket costs for prescription medications
  • Support a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy (pro-choice)

Republicans

  • Want to repeal the Affordable Care Act
  • Support reducing or eliminating Medicaid
  • Urge for transparency in healthcare costs
  • Support a permanent ban on federal funding for abortion, including all health care plans that cover abortion

Libertarians

  • Believe that healthcare is subject to the will of the free market

Green Party

  • Supports a national single-payer health care system
Gun Control

With 63 deaths resulting from mass shootings in the US this year alone, gun control has become an even more heavily debated issue than ever before. But it’s also one that the major parties most certainly disagree on.

Gun violence and gun rights have never been more hotly contested than today.

voters-guide-gun-control

Party Platform

Democrats

  • Support the expansion of background checks
  • Support bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines (LCAM’s)

Republicans

  • Oppose laws intended to restrict magazine capacity or ban the sale of the most popular and common modern rifle.
  • Oppose federal background checks and/or licensing requirements for gun owners

Libertarians

  • Oppose any federal legislation that decreases individual access to guns of any kind

Green Party

  • Supports gun control legislation, including a ban on assault rifles
Immigration

The debate around immigration exploded when Donald Trump built his campaign on the idea of building a wall to protect the United State’s Southern border. Coupled with the fact that more than 4 million Syrian refugees are seeking asylum from violence in their country, immigration is a more contested topic than ever before.

How will we address the nation’s borders?

voters-guide-immigration

Party Platform

Democrats

  • Support DACA and DAPA
  • Oppose the construction of a wall or other structure to discourage illegal immigration
  • Oppose restrictions on immigrants or refugees based on religious status or country of origin
  • Support immigration reform and fast-tracking the pathway to citizenship for current undocumented immigrants

Republicans

  • Oppose DACA and DAPA
  • Support building a wall along the Southern border of the United States to discourage illegal immigration
  • Support restrictions on immigrants or refugees from countries with ties to terrorism
  • Support stiffer penalties and mandatory minimum sentences for illegal aliens who illegally re-enter the U.S. after deportation

Libertarians

  • Support DACA and DAPA
  • Support restrictions on immigrants or refugees who pose a credible threat to national security

Green Party

  • Supports border passes for all Mexican and Canadian citizens to allow them to work in the U.S.
  • Supports giving asylum to all refugees
  • Oppose militarization of national borders
Foreign Policy

Countries on every continent face turmoil, and the different candidates and political parties have strong opinions on how the United States’ foreign policy should respond to these international issues.

The next President will make decisions that impact the entire world.

voters-guide-foreign-policy

Party Platform

Democrats

  • Support a hard line against Russian territorial claims and vow to work with NATO to continue to fight Russian aggression
  • Support a multi-national negotiated end to Assad’s rule of Syria, maintenance of a limited troop presence in Afghanistan, and the current nuclear agreement with Iran
  • Oppose the Kim regime in North Korea and decry China’s support of it
  • Support continued participation and leadership in the U.N. and most U.N. conventions and treaties

Republicans

  • Oppose Russian aggressions in Europe and support Ukrainian sovereignty and NATO troops stationed in Poland (though Donald Trump has expressed different personal opinions)
  • Support good relations with Canada, Mexico and Columbia; oppose good relationships with Venezuela and Cuba
  • Oppose North Korea and China’s support of their leadership, Chinese aggressions on Taiwan, and Chinese claims to the South China Sea.
  • Oppose current agreements with Iran, Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon; support the Kurdish people, the removal of Assad from Syria, a continued partnership with Iraq, and Israel’s right to defend itself from attack.
  • Oppose U.N. Agenda 21, the U.N. Convention on Women’s Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, and most declarations from the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development. Express deep concerns about the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Libertarians

  • Support an end to “current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid”

Green Party

  • Supports reductions in military spending and militarization worldwide
  • Supports the “joint comprehensive plan of action” signed by Iran and the United Nations
  • Supports the right of Palestinians to return to homelands in Israel
  • Oppose the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba

There are more than 30 recognized political parties in the United States, but the Republican and Democratic parties have dominated the political landscape since the middle of the 19th century. Registering as a member of a particular political party is not required to vote in a general election, but is required to vote in primary elections in several states. Here is a general description of each party, along with the two largest alternative parties, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party, as well as a description of their 2016 presidential candidates.

Democratic Party

The Democratic Party was founded in 1828 and traces its roots back to the Democratic-Republican Party, founded during Colonial times by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. At its core, the Democratic Party tends to hold views that are more liberal, placing more responsibility for governance in the hands of the federal government. The symbol of the Democratic Party is the donkey and the official color of the Democratic Party is blue.

The 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate

hillary-clinton

This year, the 2016 Democratic nominee for President of the United States is Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton most recently served as Secretary of State under President Barack Obama and has also served as the junior Senator of the state of New York. She is also the wife of two-term President Bill Clinton (1993-2000). Some of the key issues of the Clinton campaign include free college tuition for all students at public, in-state colleges and universities, increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans to ease tax burdens on the middle and lower classes, gun violence protection and paid family leave.

Republican Party

The Republican Party was founded in 1854, primarily by Northern anti-slavery activists. The first Republican President was Abraham Lincoln, who was elected to two terms (1860 and 1864) and assassinated in 1865. The Republican Party is currently driven by the principles of conservatism, including an emphasis on state and local government, free-market capitalism and dedication to traditional values. The symbol of the Republican Party is the elephant and the official color of the Republican Party is red.

The 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate

donald-trump

This year, the 2016 Republican nominee for President is Donald J. Trump, an American businessman, real estate investor, and reality television star. Mr. Trump does not have past political experience, but has had enormous business success and dominated the Republican primaries with his straight-forward and controversial messaging. Some key issues of the Trump campaign include immigration reform, especially the idea of building a wall around the Southern border of the United States and banning immigrants from countries he has identified as potential terrorist risks; trade reform; and lowering taxes on all, especially the very wealthy, to invigorate the national economy.

Green Party

The Green Party, officially named The Green Party of the United States (GPUS), was founded in 2001. (It is an evolution of Association of State Green Parties (ASPG), founded in 1996.) The Green Party is the fourth-largest political party in the United States, and describes itself as an “eco-socialist” party. The Green Party bases its political stances on the four pillars of the Green Party: ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy and nonviolence. Because of its dedication to grassroots democracy and opposition to big business, the Green Party does not accept any funding from traditional sources of large-scale political funding, such as political action committees (PACs) or corporations.

The Green Party 2016 Presidential Candidate

jill-stein
via Flickr user Gage Skidmore

This year, the 2016 Green Party presidential candidate is Dr. Jill Stein, a physician, professor of medical school, and political activist. Dr. Stein graduated from Harvard Medical School and taught there in addition to practicing medicine until 2006. She joined the Green Party in 1998 and ran for President as the Green candidate in 2012, earning 0.4% of the popular vote. In 2016, her vice presidential candidate is Ajamu Baraka. Dr. Stein’s 2016 presidential campaign emphasizes Wall Street reform and heavier taxation for big businesses and banks, as well as much stricter regulations related to environmental issues.

Libertarian Party

The Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 and is dedicated to the ideals of small government, civil liberty and laissez-faire economics. It is the third-largest political party in the United States. Libertarians support non-interventionist foreign policy, gun rights, legalization of drugs and an end to federal income tax. They oppose capital punishment and any spending that adds to the national debt. Famous Libertarians include David Koch, Ron Paul, Trey Parker and Peter Thiel.

The Libertarian Party 2016 Presidential Candidate

gary-johnson
via Flickr user Gage Skidmore

This year, the 2016 Libertarian Party presidential candidate is Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico (1995 to 2003). Johnson was also the CEO of Cannabis Setiva, which he resigned from before beginning his campaign. He also ran as the Libertarian presidential candidate in 2012, when he earned 0.99% of the popular vote. The Libertarian vice-presidential candidate is William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts (1991 to 1997). Johnson’s 2016 platform centers around lowering taxes with the goal of abolishing the federal income tax, legalizing drugs, balancing the budget immediately and cutting military spending.

Independent

Forty-two percent of American voters identify as independent of any political party, according to Gallup. In a tight race like the 2016 presidential election, that means that independent voters will have a big say in who becomes President this year.

To vote as an independent in the general election, you simply have to register to vote in your state of residence by your state’s deadline. (Find voter deadlines and different ways to register to vote in each state here.) Different states do have different rules about who you can vote for in a primary election depending on which party affiliation you choose, but party affiliation does not affect your choices in a general election.

Disclaimer: BestColleges.com is not affiliated with any political parties, and none of our staff members are licensed to practice law or make legal recommendations. The information contained on this page is meant to be used as a general guide and should not be a substitution for consulting with government and state election officials.