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If 2012 was the first social media election, then #Election2016 is a very competent and tech-savvy successor. Piggybacking on the lessons learned in the last presidential election, 2016’s candidates from both sides of the aisle have created Twitter handles, mastered the art of snarky hashtags, and leveraged the immediacy of a variety of social media platforms to not only show their relevancy to millennials, but to respond to and get in front of breaking news stories.

My fellow millennials, we are not only a key demographic in the world of entertainment, but politics as well. We’ll only become more important if candidates can count on us to participate in elections and if we force ourselves to be heard. Unfortunately, only 38% of 18-24-year-olds voted in the last election. What happens in this election will definitely impact our defining years–not our parents’ housing market or economy or job creation, but ours. With candidates leaning on the immediacy and engagement that defines social media to attract and maintain voters, it’s easier than ever to get involved with the electoral process.

If you’re not following these hashtags or adding to the conversation surrounding their root topics, then you’re missing out. These could be the topics that define the 2016 presidential election.

1. #Election2016 (of course!)

While every election is, of course, important, there is a certain palpable exciting and still semi-frightening air surrounding this one. Perhaps it’s because the Republican Party is the strongest it’s been since the 1920s and that whoever wins from whichever party will definitely be bringing with them some major changes. Or, the fact that we seem to be rehashing arguments we thought were settled (Roe v. Wade, anyone?).  There’s a mix of diverse candidates, particularly on the Republican side—over a dozen in the beginning—each representing their brand of Republican values from the uber-conservative to the moderate.

2. #BlackLivesMatter /#CampaignZero

Black Lives Matter’s genesis stems from the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin. The activist group then gained steam due the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Police brutality and militarization and related racial politics play a key role in the national climate, but it’s a matter many candidates are stumbling over. Some of them continue dismissing the movement even though activists have been prevalent at candidates’ rallies.

Campaign Zero is an initiative of Black Lives Matter. It’s a 10-point policy aimed at ending police violence by limiting police interventions, improving community interactions, and ensuring accountability.

Candidates from both sides are often criticized for being detached from the average person, that they’ve spent too much time cavorting with other politicians and the wealthy, helping to serve their interests, preventing them from truly grasping what life is like on the ground. How candidates understand and respond to the Black Lives Matter movement is indicative of their understanding of the daily, real world issues their constituents face.


3. #StopGunViolence /#GunControl

Gun control is a heated and important topic in any election. Not only does gun ownership bring up the Second Amendment, but there’s a quick transition to gang violence and the war on drugs. With college shootings in Oregon, Arizona, and Texas, and then a woman shooting at a shoplifter in a Home Depot just a few days after it was reported that an 11-year-old boy shot his child neighbor (all in the last fourteen days alone), there are no signs of the gun control debate cooling anytime soon.

With speculation mounting that President Obama may invoke an Executive Order to mandate more background checks for gun buyers, some candidates like Hillary Clinton are pledging to crack down on gun violence. Others are blaming the rise in shootings on mental illness. No matter if you’re for more gun control or not, this will remain a key topic of debate and rhetoric even after the polls close.


4. #HillaryEmails

Okay, so just a quick recap: Former FLOTUS and Secretary of State and now two-time presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton used a private email server and email account while Secretary of State. This fact was brought to life after the State Department was attempting to fulfill a request for documents for review by congressional investigators.

Clinton and her staff did eventually turn over 30,000 emails, but also disclosed that they deleted over 30,000 personal messages and then wiped the private server. While this doesn’t fit in with best practices, it also doesn’t seem to break any of the laws that were in place at the time she held office, though many argue it does ignore the spirit of transparency of government officials and the Freedom of Information Act. The email scandal will likely live on, popping up from time to time, particularly at next year’s debates between the final candidates, especially if Hillary herself is still running.

Plus, it’s not just Hillary Clinton’s email snafu that we’re talking about here, but the underlying issue of trust that permeates every election. We look at their voting records with a discerning eye—did they flip-flop? We question their motives for running. We ruminate on their diplomacy experience, on their history of job creation. Inevitably, skeletons wiggle themselves free.

It’s rare when a candidate doesn’t undergo at least one scandal during an election campaign that they then have to manage and overcome. And often, more can be gleaned from how they manage and control the story than in the story’s inciting event itself.

5. #IStandWithPP

When we talk about Planned Parenthood we’re not just talking about access to abortions or cancer screenings or birth control. Yes, it’s primarily that, but like gun control, it branches off into related discussions about sex education in American schools, feminism, women’s rights, sexual assault, and even religion. Planned Parenthood is a hot topic that incites a plethora of debate.

One of the key issues being discussed right now is federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Or rather, the defunding. Congressional hearings dissecting the organization’s funding, spending, and legitimacy began in early September and ran all month long, concluding with the testimony of Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s president.

Planned Parenthood receives over $450 million in federal funding, with almost $400 million of that being from reimbursed for Medicaid-covered services. While Planned Parenthood does offer access to abortions, it is prohibited from using federal funding directly for such procedures. Instead, the organization uses that segment of its funding for other services like birth control and cancer screenings.

The concern isn’t just about how cuts or limitations on funding impact Planned Parenthood today, but how those changes will reverberate throughout related organizations and how it will impact women’s health and the sexual/reproductive landscape going forward.

6. #ClimateChange / #GlobalWarming

Based on climate and environmental scientists’ predictions, whoever wins the election could very well be the last president to help avert—or at least curb—environmental catastrophes associated with climate change. California is experiencing extreme drought resulting in a declared state of emergency and rampant wildfires. Storms are strengthening across the globe, and once predictable weather patterns are changing. The next president has the power to slow, maintain, or even speed up climate change and global warming. It’s perhaps impossible to undo the damage that has been done, and the same holds true for the initiatives pursued by the next president.

Like many of the issues discussed here, climate change is not an isolated issued. It’s far reaching with global implications that influence conflicts over depleting resources; inevitable migration as the sea levels rise; and the economy as prices for gas, heating oil, corn, meat, and wheat fluctuate. Whether you’re a twenty-something looking to move out on your own or settle down and buy a house in the next few years, who you elect president could impact where you live and what you can afford during their presidency and beyond.

7. #Syria

The civil war that’s been raging the last four years in Syria is complicated and messy. Mass migration as a result of civil unrest and growing civilian casualties inflicted by both sides has become the primary Syrian-related focus as of late, especially since the U.S. has pledged to take in 10,000 refugees itself in the next year.

As tensions between the U.S. and countries surrounding Syria and throughout the Middle East persist and evolve, and now with Russia’s recent bombings and involvement in the crisis, each candidate is forming their own plan on how to deal with refugees, Russian relations, and ISIS. Just last week in New Hampshire, Donald Trump stated that he would send Syrian refugees back if elected president, believing the mass migration could be an ISIS Trojan Horse.

8. #StudentLoanForgiveness/ #StudentLoanDebt

I, like most millennials, am saddled with debt, especially student loan debt. I went to college to get an education to land a better job in an effort to pursue the American Dream. While many professional doors have opened because of my educational journey, I’ve also gained tens of thousands of dollars of debt that is holding me back from attaining other equally important things in my life.

With millions of students in debt, student loan forgiveness has become a keystone in the debate about economic mobility and the impact that the high cost of education will have on multiple generations and their accompanying economies. Student debt impacts credit card debt, the housing market, the automobile industry, and basically everything else. A capitalist economy can only thrive when citizens have money to spend.

Though on the rhetoric back burner as of late due to other more current and pressing issues (gun control and mounting problems in Syria, just to name a couple), you can bet that once the end of the school year rolls around student debt and loan forgiveness will rocket back into focus. Just in time for the Republican and Democratic National Conventions to make their official nominations, which align with when the reality of loan debt hits graduates.

Many people only tune into the election when it gets down the final months, when they’re getting ready to place their vote. But when all that spotlight is centered directly on a handful of candidates, I find their messages become watered down versions what they really think. That’s why I think it’s important to start paying attention now if you haven’t already. Understanding how a candidate’s opinion changes on key issues over the course of their campaign is just as important as knowing where they stand on Election Day.

What do you think? Did we miss any? What are the topics you care the most about this election?


Hailing from the great state of New Hampshire, Stephanie is a gin-loving freelance writer who earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. Check out more bookish content at www.sherambler.com. or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @sherambler.

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