Inside the Minds of Young Santa Barbara Voters

Inside the Minds of Young Santa Barbara Voters

‘Indy’ Survey Finds Out the Issues and Candidates They Care About Most

By Tyler Hayden | September 24, 2020

Young Voters of Santa Barbara | All Photos Courtesy

Oftentimes, especially here in Santa Barbara, where the wealthy and the retired make up a large part of the electorate, older voices dominate discussions over politics and policy. In one regard, that can be a good thing ― age brings perspective, and perspective breeds wisdom that nurtures and protects a community. 

But in another respect, that uneven dynamic may give short shrift to the will of younger people ― those who don’t possess the same economic opportunities and freedom enjoyed by their parents and grandparents; who frequently live lives constrained by student debt, meager housing, and (especially nowadays) tenuous employment; and who may not have the spare time or mental bandwidth to attend government meetings held in the middle of the day or do the after-hours legwork necessary for meaningful civic engagement.

Earlier this month, with the 2020 presidential election around the corner (but before the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsberg), the Santa Barbara Independent asked the county’s young voters to share the local and national issues that matter to them most, and which presidential candidate they plan to vote for. Exactly 500 people responded to the survey, which we modeled after a Pew Research Center poll conducted earlier this year. We defined “young” the same way the Census does, those between 18 and 34 years of age.

The results revealed a contingent of voters deeply concerned on the national stage about climate change, health care, and racial justice. Closer to home, they prioritized environmental protections, housing, and social equity. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise climate policy and local environmentalism loom large in the minds of our young residents. They, after all, have lived through multiple natural catastrophes exacerbated by climate change ― wildfires and the Montecito debris flow being only the most recent ― and will inherit a planet on the brink of permanent disrepair. 

It was also interesting to see that two of the topics which in recent years have monopolized countless hours of debate at the County Board of Supervisors and Santa Barbara City Council ― cannabis and State Street, respectively ― ranked among the lowest local priorities for young voters. Meanwhile, the issues they do care deeply about, including social justice and police reform, receive precious little airtime at the top levels of our government.

While the majority of respondents said they’ll be voting for Joe Biden, many will do so half-heartedly or with their noses pinched. We heard the word “begrudgingly” often, as Biden doesn’t embrace the fundamentally progressive policies so many millennials and Generation Zers said are critical to their futures. Others said they will continue to support our current president, and more than a few explained they are disillusioned by the hyper-partisan system and would rather vote for a third-party candidate.

But instead of trying to encapsulate in a few short sentences the hundreds of informed and insightful responses we received, we’ll let our young voters speak for themselves. Below you will find a sampling of the respondents, and at the bottom of the page are links to all of the responses. Thank you to those who participated.



Aaron Bilane, 30, IT Specialist

Top national issues: “Unity — We’re stronger together, we’ve been growing further apart, and we need leadership that will work to unify us. Economy — Far too many people believe taxes will fix everything. We need to increase those, but also look at ways of responsibly reducing our expenditures. Health care — Too many people don’t feel comfortable going to the doctor because of the costs, myself included.”

Top local issues: “Housing — Landlords are charging too much and giving housing to students instead of local workers. Bums/cleanliness — We need to keep people off the street. There are too many reports of stolen bikes and trash left all over town where these people reside. Recreation — Not enough local options (paintball, go-carts, etc…).”

Pick for president: “Biden will unify the nation, be more fiscally responsible, mend ties with our allies, and work towards a better healthcare system.

Alexander Willette, 32, Sales Representative

Top national issues: Foreign policy (strategic bilateral trade agreements, defense R&D into space and cyber/new military alliances, and decoupling from China); economic growth (protectionism, lower taxes, domestic production); police reform (focus training on de-escalation and redesigning qualified immunity for all govt officials)”

Top local issues: “Crime (reduction of violent crime rates); State Street (keep it pedestrian, which I think will help local businesses); homelessness (more progressive mental health and drug rehabilitation services)

Pick for president: Donald Trump (mostly because of his foreign and economic policies).

Celina Garcia, 27, Web Content Manager for the Independent

Top national issues: “Health care, immigration rights (abolishing ICE), white supremacy. Simply put, all those areas are structural messes. People are dying and we need to do something about it.”

Top local issues: “Climate change (fires, rising sea levels); wealth disparity (homeless camps vs extreme wealth, local small businesses struggling to make it); coronavirus spreading”

Pick for president: “He wasn’t even my 5th choice, but Joe Biden. He makes a lot of blanket statements, gets a lot of praise for doing the bare minimum, and adds absolutely nothing to the conversation, but we need to get the Cheeto out of office, plain and simple.”

Carlos Cruz, 29, (Occupation Withheld)

Top national issues: “War — war is a waste of money and lives. Universal health care — with a smaller war budget we can afford a larger health care safety net. The war on drugs — all drugs should be legalized, regulated, and taxed. This would reduce the prison population and increase federal income.”

Top local issues: “Goleta should remain Goleta and should not become a copy of Santa Barbara. Small businesses that focus on the trades should be allowed to remain. People should be encouraged to exercise and/or simply be outdoors. Sunlight is a great defense against COVID and against illness in general.”

Pick for president: Donald Trump. I don’t like Trump in general, but I do agree with some of his policies. I hope that this election destroys the Democratic Party and maybe in 2024 or 2028 we can have two populist parties. It’s silly to think that the largest economy on the planet manufactures so little of its own goods. The United States should not depend on the world and the world should not depend on the United States.

Dain Lopez, 30, Teacher and Librarian

Top national issues: “Getting the pandemic under control is the most urgent national issue for me. My second is ending racial inequality, starting with ending police brutality. I’m ashamed of the racial disparities in the U.S. (life expectancy, household wealth, educational success, etc.). My third is responding to climate change. We have no Planet B.”

Top local issues: “Affordable housing. If more affordable housing isn’t built, more and more folks in S.B. will be pushed out and it will have huge consequences for this community. Second, police reform, including establishing community oversight of the SBPD and reallocating money from the police into other services. Lastly, what’s happening in local schools. I’ve been shocked at the backlash to including ethnic studies and comprehensive sex ed as part of local curriculum.”

Pick for president: “I am voting for Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker, the Green Party candidates for President/VP. Their platform addresses many of the issues I’m most concerned about, including a COVID response, ending racial and economic inequality, and an ambitious plan to fight climate change with a real Green New Deal (Hawkins was the original GNDer back in 2010). As horrific as Trump has been, I’m disappointed that the Democratic Party keeps abandoning working people and moving to the right. The Democratic platform does not address my concerns or present a strong enough vision of the future of this country.”

Daniella Regencia, 31, Attorney

Top national issues: “Coronavirus is the most important national issue because progress cannot be made on anything else until people can safely live their lives; health care (including reproductive rights) is the next most important because people shouldn’t be dying of preventable illnesses in America in 2020; the economy because the more people earn income and reinvest it through consumer spending or otherwise the better off we will be.”

Top local issues: “I think homelessness is hugely important here because there are successful programs in this state but Santa Barbara seems to be reluctant to do the work to implement them, yet everyone complains about the homeless problem.”

Pick for president: “Joe Biden because I think he is a genuinely good person who will do more to unify the country, repair our image around the world, and set us on a progressive path forward.”

Graham Wood, 27, Architectural Designer

Top national issues: “Medicare for all, climate change, income inequality. There is enough wealth in this world to solve every crisis we have. The problem is that a small few are hoarding wealth at a rate that we have no comprehension of. We need to provide for ALL people with the wealth that is generated by most people.”

Top local issues: “Housing, homelessness, cost of existence. I am very tired of the NIMBY mentality when it comes to housing and homelessness. And I wish elected representatives would not be bullied by NIMBY constituents.”

Pick for president: “Biden. I shudder to imagine what four more years of Trump would be like.”

Jadie O’Connor, 21, Student

Top national issues: “Coronavirus, climate change, and racial inequality because I feel these are the issues that have been the most clearly defined this year and have most clearly exposed the nation’s shortcomings. These three issues have been directly harming thousands of people and we need a government that is willing to face the challenges head-on.”

Top local issues: “Environmental issues (i.e. wildfires, cliff erosion); taking care of the homeless community; and boosting the economy during and after the pandemic.”

Presidential pick: “Joe Biden, because although he is not the most ideal candidate, he is still better than Trump. He will also enlist better court judges and cabinet staff and he overall seems more willing to listen to the American people with compassion and receptiveness.”

John McLafferty, 28, Contract Administrator

Top national issues: “Coronavirus because it’s not being handled well; stimulus spending on people rather than companies; rooting out white supremacy in police departments.”

Top local issues: “Wildfires because of the amount of damage; the blackouts to prevent fires because many of us rely on that power for our work, school, or health; and decreasing housing costs since it’s going to price most working-class families out of the county.”

Pick for president: “Biden, but not happy about it.”

Kyndal Vogt, 25, Library Resources Coordinator

Top national issues: “Education — ensuring a variety of quality education options for all communities regardless of their economic status; Immigration — making our immigration process easier and more affordable; Climate change — more collaboration is needed between scientists and various industries in order to make sustainable progress instead of the current dynamic of the scientific/intellectual elites shaming agricultural and industrial workers for their ‘lack of care’ of the planet.”

Top local issues: “Housing — as a single person with an advanced degree, I cannot afford to stay in Santa Barbara much longer because rent and housing prices are exorbitant. Imagine how much more difficult it is for people with families or without advanced degrees.”

Pick for president: A third-party candidate. I don’t trust Trump as a leader, and Biden’s main argument of “at least I’m better than that guy” is not good enough for me to vote for him. We need leaders who will look to the past and to people who think differently from them in order to lead us well during this tumultuous time. Also, how are we in 2020 and the two leading candidates are old, rich, white guys?!”

Maya Panizzon, 18, Student

Top national issues: “BLM and defunding the police are antithetical to our American ideals. They are not based on facts and numbers.”

Top local issues: “Businesses and schools being closed due to Covid. The number of deaths from Covid alone just does not support the number of people losing their businesses, students being out of the classroom, and all the mental illness problems that have gotten so much worse.”

Pick for president: Trump. Even though I don’t like his character, he has made a lot of positive changes. He has done a lot for the black communities, the economy, and to restart the production of goods within the U.S. The Democrats are so filled with anger and hate that the country is burning and many Democratic-run cities are turning into shitholes.

Megan Eales Monroe, 28, Content Marketing Manager

Top national issues: “I believe that electoral reform should be a high priority, including removing unfair obstacles to voter registration, as well as gerrymandering. We need a solution for outrageous health care and health insurance costs. I also think that corruption is a major concern, specifically campaign finance laws.”

Top local issues: “Santa Barbara desperately needs more affordable & middle tier housing. To do this, we need to overcome the anti-development mindset that many in our town continue to cling to. We also need to fix the burdensome and inefficient development process – the frustration and difficulty of getting the correct permits to complete development is absolutely stifling small businesses, and worse – nonprofits, who face repeated hurdles and rejections from city reviewers that can even force them to relinquish grant money by failing to meet construction deadlines.”

Pick for president: “Biden”

Miranda Beal, 25, Server

Top national issues: “Climate change because it’s not only an environmental issue but an environmental injustice issue and we only have a limited amount of time to solve it. Black Lives Matter because we need to end violence against black people. Defunding the police because as I got deferred this year from Teach for America due to budget cuts, I saw firsthand the drastic difference in funding between public education and law enforcement.”

Top local issues: “Preserving the local environmental and green space because it’s important for our mental and physical health to go outside and be in nature. Food security because there are families, homeless people, and children who are food insecure.”

Pick for president: “Biden because he actually has regard for human life.”

Sara Holms, 34, Yoga and Pilates Instructor

Top national issues: “Climate change — because our global house is literally on fire; Medicare for all — because our current insurance system is robbery and should be illegal, and everyone deserves to be healthy; and free higher education/cancelling student loan debt — because my entire generation is mired in crippling lifelong debt when wages are stagnant and housing is unaffordable. Student debt is hurting the entire economy long-term.”

Top local issues: “Affordable housing — the rent in Santa Barbara is too damn high; homelessness — because we have a duty to care for our most vulnerable citizens, get them off the streets, and give them the treatment and tools to turn their lives around; and revitalizing downtown/investing in arts and entertainment — because Santa Barbara needs to get its groove back. Make Santa Barbara Cool Again.”

Pick for president: “Joe Biden — for countless reasons, but primarily because we can’t have another Trump appointee in our highest court.”

Sophie Spievak, 19, Student

Top national issues: “Climate change, racial inequality, and coronavirus. It’s very clear across California and across the country that climate change is incredibly detrimental to everyone. It’s also incredibly clear that our justice system is racially biased and that a disproportionate number of people of color are killed and convicted at higher rates than is fair. I am also very disappointed in the way that coronavirus is being handled by the current administration.”

Top local issues: “Police reform, homelessness, and environmental protections. I was very disappointed by the way that the police and mayor handled the police reform protests over the summer. S.B. has a large homeless population that needs more help than ever amid the pandemic and added financial hardships. Every year, fire season gets worse and I think that we need to readdress how the country prepares for, prevents, and manages the fires.”

Pick for president: “Biden. He’s far from my top choice but I don’t believe in protest votes. As unfortunate as it is, we have created a two-party system and Biden is significantly better than Trump.”

Syd Abad, 20, Student and Transgender Advocate

Top national issues: “We need Medicare for all, a green new deal, and stronger labor rights & accessibility to unions.”

Top local issues: “Defunding the SBPD, stopping the gentrification of Milpas, and better tenant protections/more affordable housing.”

Pick for president: “Biden. I believe that we must first get ourselves out of a fascist regime in order to begin the implementation of progressive policies like free healthcare and college for all, a green new deal, and election reform.”

Taylor Duguran, 24, Teacher

Top national issues: “Reproductive rights — I’m very concerned that if Republicans have another four years of filling the courts that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Climate change — the fires in California are just the beginning of the effects of climate change and if we don’t do something as a nation now, it will only get worse. Racial justice — which encompasses many other issues, like income equality and police reform. This is long overdue.”

Top local issues: “Housing and income equality — as a teacher I see the large disparity of access to resources amongst my students. Sexual violence against women — as someone who lived in Isla Vista, I think sexual violence is a major issue in our area. Racial justice — even as a pretty liberal city, even we can’t get this right, which makes me wonder how we will ever do it as a nation.”

Pick for president: “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. My vote will be a vote against Trump and there are countless reasons for that.”

Timur Nasafi, 26, IT Manager

Top national issues: “Racial equality, because I’ve been discriminated against and tokenized my entire life. Medicare for all, because healthcare should be provided by the government for the people. And taxing the rich, because they are killing us economically.”

Top local issues: “Defund the police and Sheriff — S.B. could fund a better social worker program and really put work into addressing homelessness and poverty. Getting more equal representation in local government. Stopping drilling and protecting the coast.” 

Presidential pick: Joe Biden because voting for Trump is allowing this nation to slip into fascism.

Trevor Eckhart, 29, Brand Operations Analyst

Top national issues: “General economy, tax reforms, and budget reforms. A lot of our problems can be attenuated with sensible changes to how we manage our economy (legislation, subsidies, economic incentives, etc.), how we generate tax revenue (who we tax, what we tax, and how much we tax), and how we spend our money (federal level, state level, etc.).

Top local issues: “Housing is huge when we are talking about income equality. Owning a home (equity) versus renting a home (expense) can make all the difference to someone’s current and future financial status. The environment is big for S.B. because it attracts tourists and high-income earners (higher property values=more tax revenue). We also need to open more trails and provide more thorough maintenance of already existing infrastructure. More people hiking and recreating means more tourists and more people donating to environmental causes, potentially.”

Pick for president: “Joe Biden, without a doubt. Pardon my language, but FUCK DONALD J. TRUMP.”

Zachary King, 30, Server/Social Sciences Instructor and Researcher

Top national issues: “Climate change because of the extent of the threat; corporate power because it drives climate change.”

Top local issues: “Severely curtailing rent and providing no-cost public housing for area workers, because rent and housing are the linchpin of our oppression and exploitation in day-to-day life.”

Pick for president: “Biden because he’s not as awful as Trump.”

Zoe Monteleone, 30, Grocery Worker

Top national issues: “1) Reproductive rights. Healthcare is a human right. 2) Racial inequality. Minorities are unfairly and disproportionately disadvantaged by our legal systems 3) Climate change. Corporations should be held accountable.”

Top local issues: “1) Police reform. Our police should be held accountable for their actions here in S.B. 2) Housing. Enough million-dollar condos. We need more affordable housing options for the working class 3) Environmental protections. I think S.B. does an okay job so far with its efforts to save its environment.”

Pick for president: “Joe Biden because he isn’t Trump.”

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