Election 2020

New Voters

First-time voters reflect on why they will vote in November and what will shape their decisions.


Mallory Rosetta, 20, poses for a selfie in April in Lubbock, Texas.

Mallory Rosetta, 20, of Lubbock, Texas, is a registered Democrat and studies advertising and media strategies at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

She plans to vote for Joe Biden in the November election, something she said is unfortunate, viewed as more progressive – first Elizabeth Warren and then Bernie Sanders.

Rosetta originally supported Warren, her political inspiration, because she agreed most with her stances on various issues and liked the idea of having a female president. She liked Sanders’ positions on taxes and health care policy.

Because Rosetta has politically involved friends who post about politics on social media, she typically gleans information about candidates and politics from Twitter and Facebook.

“One of my best friends here is the president of Tech Student Democrats, so she’s been following the whole campaign very closely,” Rosetta said. “I have a friend from back home who is very much on the conservative side… and [others] who are kind of in the middle [politically].”

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t influenced Rosetta’s political thinking.

“[The pandemic] makes it more apparent that [Trump] doesn’t handle things the right way all the time,” Rosetta said. “If anything, it made it more likely that I’ll vote Democrat.”

~ Erin Hogge

Katerina Rentzsch, 18, poses for a photo in April 2020 in Warrenton, Virginia.

Katerina Rentzsch, 18, of Warrenton, Virginia, is a registered Republican and will vote for President Donald Trump in the November presidential election because she agrees with his policies.

When deciding for whom to vote, Rentzsch, a nursing student at Radford University in Radford, Virginia, decided to follow what her parents think of the candidates.

To stay informed about the candidates, Rentzsch gathers information from friends, but mostly from her parents.

“I don’t know, I’m 18 — I really haven’t had the time to dive into political beliefs. It’s the last thing that I think of,” Rentzsch said.

Her religion has also heavily influenced her perspectives on certain issues.

“My religious beliefs growing up have shaped what I look for in a candidate,” Rentzsch said. “My Christian morals with abortion and gay rights have tied into why I’m voting for [Trump],” Rentzsch said.

A certified nursing assistant, Rentzsch said she approves of Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Having to deal with [the coronavirus] every day hits me different than my friends that are like, ‘Why is he making these choices, this is stupid’ when they’re just staying at home,” Rentzsch said.

~ Erin Hogge

Lexi Boone, 21, poses for a photo in August 2019 in University Park, Pennsylvania.

Lexi Boone, 21, of Warrenton, Virginia, is a registered Republican and plans to vote for President Donald Trump in the November election. She’s enrolled in the nursing program at Penn State.

            As someone who will eventually work in the healthcare industry, Boone said the federal response to the coronavirus is of utmost importance to her, including an updated national disaster plan.

Trump’s funding cuts to organizations like the World Health Organization concern Boone, but she said she thinks many people dislike Trump as a person because they want someone to blame for things.

            “Everybody hates [Trump], but it’s fine,” Boone said. “He had gotten employment rates and the [stock market] up before [the coronavirus pandemic] happened…. I think he’s making really smart business choices that don’t make sense to the general public, but if you look at it from a business standpoint it makes sense.”

            Boone said she stays informed about the candidates by watching and reading Fox News and CNN, as well as by reading other articles that pop up on Facebook.

            “I try not to read other people’s opinions… because… [I] don’t care about other people’s opinions that much,” Boone said.

            Boone’s family influenced her decision to register to vote.

“We all kind of stand together on the same issues and we all have the same opinions and read the same things,” Boone said.

As for her peers, Boone said the biggest thing on people’s minds is the coronavirus pandemic, rather than the election.

Erin Hogge

Joey Rothatcher, a 17-year-old high school junior, poses in his home in Rochester, Pennsylvania on April 14, 2020.

When Joey Rothatcher thinks of the 2020 presidential election, the economy stands out to him as the most important issue.

Specifically, the 17-year-old said the economy has improved during President Donald Trump’s term, and he will vote for Trump to continue that advancement.

“I’m going to be entering the workforce in the next four years most likely, so the fact that more job opportunities are being opened up is really important to me,” Rothatcher said.

After high school, Rothatcher hopes to pursue a degree in sports management.

The high school junior currently resides in Rochester, Pennsylvania, a rural community surrounded by farmland. He attends Eden Christian Academy, a roughly 600-person private school located in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.

He will turn 18 in August and plans to register as a Republican, following in the footsteps of most of his family.

Rothatcher said his family has strongly impacted his political beliefs. Many of his classmates share similar right-leaning political views,, and most who will be able to vote will also vote for the incumbent, he said.

Like many other members of his generation, Rothatcher receives information about the presidential race from an untraditional source — Snapchat. 

He said the reason why he stays informed about politics and wants to vote is because it’s his responsibility. 

“It’s a responsibility you have,” he said. “Since a lot of countries don’t get the opportunity to vote, it’s my duty to vote. I’m excited because it’s my first time getting to do it.” 

~ Maddie Aiken

Grace Muratore poses in May 2019 in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Though Grace Muratore said she isn’t really into politics, she’s still excited for the opportunity to vote for the first time in the 2020 presidential election. “Being able to vote really impacts our country,” she said. “My decision can help someone when I vote.”

Muratore’s family is left-leaning politically, and the 18-year-old registered Democrat plans to vote for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in November. 

The Penn State freshman hopes to one day become a broadcast meteorologist or on-air reporter.

As a future voter, Muratore said the most important issues for her include gun control, equal pay and LGBTQ rights. 

Muratore said she stays informed on the current election cycle by watching the news and talking to her parents. 

She said she does not approve of the way President Donald Trump has handled his presidency. 

“The way that President Trump is handling [the coronavirus] says a lot about his course of action with a lot of things and I don’t think it’s being managed the best right now,” Muratore said. “[Trump’s handling of the virus is] definitely a deciding factor [in how I will vote].”

~ Maddie Aiken

Rebecca Olszewski

For Rebecca Olszewski, a 19-year-old, freshman majoring in speech pathology at Duquesne University, one of the most divisive issues in American politics will guide her as she casts her first-ever vote for president in November.

“Abortion is a really important issue to me, because I think that everyone has the right to life, and that includes the unborn,” Olszewski said.

Olszewski, a registered Republican, plans to vote for Donald Trump, whose actions as president have supported those who oppose abortion rights.

She said her parents have influenced her views immensely and played a role in her registering. But she added that her friends, however, don’t all see “eye to eye” with her.

“It’s important to listen to those around you to develop your opinions, but also keep yourself educated with the facts on issues,” Olszewski said.

She’s found it easy to keep up with Trump because of the actions he’s taking with COVID-19. She said following Twitter allows her to keep up to date with Trump and his likely Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden supports abortion rights, but Olszewski she also supports Trump for other reasons.

“I think [the spread of coronavirus] has made me even more supportive of Trump,” Olszewski said. “He has been taking strong actions and getting the job done so that we are all safe and healthy.”

~ Megan Swift

Claire Pamerleau may only be 18 years old, but her political involvement goes back a pretty long time.

“I was raised in a pro-political environment,” Pamerleau said. “When I was little, I was picked up from daycare and I’d go stand and wait in line with my Mom while she voted.”

This first-time voter, a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, studies political science and psychology.

Pamerleau, a registered Democrat, said she will vote for Joe Biden in November.

“I care about health care in the upcoming election,” Pamerleau said. “I’m pretty passionate about the environment, too.”

She said most of her political science major friends are very liberal or at least “socially liberal, if they are economically conservative.”

Pamerleau mainly reads the New York Times to stay up to date on politics.

“I [also] like to watch very liberal videos and then something from Fox News on YouTube to get what both sides of the country are looking at in terms of politics,” Pamerleau said. “In my opinion, there’s a lot of things [President Donald Trump] failed to do and failed to act on.”

She said the coronavirus situation has highlighted Trump’s lack of leadership skills.

“Leadership is especially important in times of crisis like this, so of course we’re all looking toward the president right now,” Pamerleau said. “The crisis wouldn’t have gotten as bad as it did if there were better leadership in place.”

~ Megan Swift

Maddie Consentino

Maddie Consentino said she knows she will participate in the upcoming presidential election, and she knows she won’t vote to re-elect President Donald Trump.

But that’s where her certainty stops.

“I’m thinking of either [Joe] Biden or someone in the Green Party. It all depends on the amount of research I do – really a flip of the coin if they have the same values,” Consentino said.

Consentino will be a first-time voter. She turns 18 on Oct. 6.

“Voting to me is just something we have to do,” Consentino said. “It greatly impacts our country in the respect most of the decision is on our shoulders. It’s also a really big gambling game – [a] 50/50 chance.”

Consentino said that social media played a big part in her learning about the candidates. She said she feels passionate about gun control, abortion and health care.

“My political opinions have really come from myself,” Consentino said. “Everything is spread on social media nowadays, and it’s easy to sort of form your own opinions once you see all different sides of the story on your Twitter feed.”

Consentino said that most of her friends are ready to vote as well and that they’re all voting for Biden, because he was the Democrat left after the primaries.

“I’d prefer someone else,” Consentino said. “But due to what’s happened, I’d rather vote blue than have Donald Trump as president again.”

~ Alexandra Ramos

Sarabeth Bowmaster, in Webster’s Cafe in March 2019

Growing up in the town of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, Sarabeth Bowmaster said she always disagreed with the majority around her and encountered “close-mindedness and selfishness” within the community.

“[I thought,] ‘OK, how can I change this? What can I do to stop these kinds of actions that are going on in my little rural town?’” she said.

The solution for Bowmaster is voting – which she will do for the first time in the 2020 presidential election.

Bowmaster, a Penn State freshman studying women’s studies and political science, serves as the president of Penn State’s League of Women Voters chapter. The 18-year-old plans to attend graduate school to obtain a Ph.D. in women’s studies, and afterward hopes to work either in academia as a professor or in advocacy.

Bowmaster said she believes voting in both local and national elections is important to enact change and make one’s voice heard. The registered Democrat said reproductive rights and climate change are the most important issues to her.

She plans to vote for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, though he wasn’t her first choice among the pool of Democratic candidates – South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was. Bowmaster said she believes President Donald Trump cannot be elected again.

“I don’t think our country can survive four more years of how polarizing [Trump] is,” she said. “I don’t think he’s presidential in any way, and obviously I don’t agree with his policies.”

Bowmaster stays informed about politics by listening to the NPR politics podcast, watching the debates and reading news from outlets like CNN and USA Today.

For her friends who aren’t as interested in politics, she pushes them to form their own opinions. She also does this within her role as president of the League of Women Voters as she advocates for voter education. 

“I think it’s really important that each person makes their own decision with the best knowledge they can get, the most clear and informed opinion they can have, without anyone telling them, ‘Hey, you should vote for this person,’” she said. “…Having an informed opinion is so important to the system of democracy.”

~ Maddie Aiken

Samantha Eberhart

Samantha Eberhart, 17, has never been the most political member of her family, but she will be 18 in time for Election Day, and she said her first-ever vote for president will be for a second term for Donald Trump.

“I have thought of voting for other people,” Eberhart said. “But after hearing different views from my family as well as my friends, I’ve made my decision ….”

Eberhart said every citizen’s vote is important.

“I’ve had a hard time finding meaning in voting,” Eberhart said. “I feel as if my one opinion doesn’t matter enough to affect anything, but I understand that there’s strength in numbers.”

Eberhart said the coronavirus situation has convinced her to vote for Trump over Democrat Joe Biden. The reason? She said Trump built a strong economy prior to the outbreak, with the stock market doing well and her family finding jobs and doing better financially.

“I politically stand in the middle,” Eberhart said. “Once coronavirus hit and the economy started to crumble, I leaned more towards Trump just because of the steady economy he’s able to upkeep.”

Eberhart says that social media has been a great learning tool for her and her friends to find out the best way to vote.

“It’s really helped me be informative of my decisions,” Eberhart said. “I can listen to as many people as I want, but they obviously won’t have as much information as the news across the world. So having that resource has been extremely helpful for first-time voters like me.”

~ Alexandra Ramos

Emilio Quevedo, right, with Jacob Ricco at a soccer stadium in Poland.

As an older first-time voter, Emilio Quevedo’s priorities and world view may be slightly different from his younger counterparts.

Quevedo, 20, is a sophomore at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, and a member of the men’s soccer team.

After previously attending New York University and then taking a gap year in Ecuador to focus on soccer, Quevedo said he feels his experiences traveling and transferring schools have helped shape his beliefs.

“I think now that I’m a little bit older and I’ve gone through college a little bit, the things that I’ve realized are important to me — number one is education,” Quevedo said. “I think that we should have free public university education as students.”

He said he talks about politics more at home than he does at school as many of his friends at school aren’t politically inclined and since many principles he believes in were instilled by his parents.

The Hillsdale, New Jersey, native also said this era of social distancing and quarantine has given him more time to read the news more fully than just see something come across his Twitter feed or a headline on CNN.

“I think back at school, sometimes I would look at The New York Times and be like, ‘I don’t really have time to read that right now’ and I wouldn’t read it. Now, I’m looking forward to reading it at night and in the morning,” he said.

Previously a Bernie Sanders supporter and a fan of many of Sanders’ more progressive policies, including his stance on tuition-free college, Quevedo has changed gears and will support Joe Biden in the general election.

“I was personally a big Bernie fan prior to him dropping out and recently endorsed Biden, so I’m going to stick with Biden obviously,” Quevedo said. “Regardless, I don’t particularly care for Donald Trump. I think we’ve given it four years, too, and for anybody who thought maybe something would be different — [I] think it’s been what I’ve expected and if not worse.”

~ Jake Aferiat

Olivia Jones in her high school graduation photo.

Olivia Jones’ top priority when it comes to casting her vote for the first time in 2020 is simple: 

The 18-year-old high school senior said she’ll select the candidate she believes will do the best job at working for disenfranchised and underprivileged communities, and that means Democrat Joe Biden.

Set to attend Vanderbilt University in the fall, Jones cares about issues such as gun control and women’s rights. 

But another key issue for her, fighting for the rights of Native Americans, is something that’s not often talked about.

“I consistently monitor these injustices faced by this population. These range from infrastructural development that threatens their sacred land all the way to legislation arguing P.O. boxes aren’t physical addresses, therefore the Native Americans can’t vote,” Jones said. “Being an educated history student who studied the prejudice and discrimination faced by these people, it is saddening to see how far we haven’t come as a society.”

Jones said she gets her interest in politics from her mom, who often helps to drive the conversations and encourage civic activism.

“My mom is extremely interested in politics and stays up to date via the news and political talk shows. She is often prone to engage in dialogue regarding these subjects as well, especially with me,” she said. “Because I know I don’t follow politics as closely as I should, I often ask her questions about what a headline I may see means or its implications.”

A native of River Vale, New Jersey, and a student at Pascack Valley High School, Jones said the political leanings of her friends and those around her run the gamut.

“My friends and classmates are generally split between Democrat and Republican. There are also a large portion of them that don’t have an interest in politics and don’t want to get involved,” she said.

Even despite some of Jones’ classmates being apathetic or disinterested, she said most people she knows will vote for the first time in the upcoming election because of a school program to register every senior to vote.

“I consider myself lucky to attend a school that has its Student Council offer registration for all members of the senior class. Filling out these forms at school with the rest of the class definitely simplifies the process,” Jones said. “The majority of students have at least some interest in the election and plans to exercise their new right to vote, even if they aren’t super invested in politics.”

~ Jake Aferiat

Griffin Olshan with his sister.

Even though he considers himself more of a moderate, Griffin Olshan made it clear that when he votes for the first time in 2020, he’ll do so with the express purpose of defeating Donald Trump.

“The single most important issue in the 2020 election is defeating President Trump. He has shown again and again on the global stage how unqualified he is to lead this country, and I believe his delayed response to everything, along with his rhetoric, will only push this country further down into the pit he plunged us in,” Olshan said.

Olshan, a junior at Penn State, said that Senator Elizabeth Warren was his first choice but when she dropped out he shifted his support to Joe Biden.

A native of Stamford, Connecticut, the 20-year-old Olshan said he tries to diversify his news consumption and be fair to both parties to avoid becoming hyper-partisan when staying up to date on current events.

“For the most part, I stay up to date with news by following numerous notable political figures and commentators of both sides in order to keep an open mind, and to avoid polarization, which I believe is the root of the increasingly partisan society we live in today,” he said.

Olshan, a registered Democrat, also said that many of his friends supported Bernie Sanders, though not necessarily for anything he stood for.

“Although I like a lot of Bernie Sanders’ ideas, I don’t think this is the right time for his ‘revolution,” Olshan said. “My friend group covers all ends of the spectrum. However, that being said, I believe the majority of them are Bernie Sanders supporters. As for why, I am truly not sure. He has become a bit of a pop culture icon, and I think that might be why for some of my less politically articulate friends.”

~ Jake Aferiat

Elliot DiNero

Elliot DiNero turned 18 right after the election in November 2016, and now that he’s 21, he’s going to make sure he does his civic duty. As a non-binary college student, DiNero wants to see change and knows voting is the first step.

“Voting is my chance to contribute to the U.S. government in a way,” DiNero said. “Admittedly, it seems a small drop in the bucket, particularly as a liberal in a blue state, but even in that case, it’s a matter of principal.”

DiNero originally wanted to vote for one of the more progressive Democrats, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren – and even went so far as to contribute to their campaigns. But after seeing both drop out of the race, DiNero is leaning toward presumptive nominee Joe Biden.

“Every day, I see more states and federal government policies rolling back protections for all sorts of people,” DiNero said. “Some are more explicit, like in the case of LGBT rights and protections. Others are quiet, affecting the poor and, oftentimes, … on minorities.”

DiNero said that he gets his information from consistently reading the news every day, but he admits that he didn’t research lesser-known Democratic candidates.

“I was sort of like my journey with atheism,” DiNero said. “I tried to read and be as informed and open minded as possible.”

As for the impact of COVID-19 on the election, DiNero said, “I wasn’t a huge fan of Biden and certainly not [President Donald] Trump. But corona has soured my view for Trump even further than ever. Granted, he didn’t cause corona, but his response hasn’t been good.”

~ Alexandra Ramos

Author

  • Erin is a sophomore from northern Virginia studying digital/print journalism and history. She is an editor at The Daily Collegian, an independently published student news outlet.

  • Megan Swift

    Megan Swift is a print/digital journalism major in Penn State's Schreyer Honors College. She minors in creative writing and entrepreneurial innovation.

April 28, 2020

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Jake Aferiat


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