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Despite recent visit, some young Wisconsin voters remain divided on Biden


Last week, President Biden traveled to Madison, Wis., to announce new plans to eliminate student debt for millions of borrowers. Madison is a college town in a county that's crucial for Democrats to win in a battleground state that the president narrowly won in 2020. Maayan Silver from member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports on how the president's messaging is resonating with students in the city.

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: In a tree-lined plaza at Madison Area Technical College, a steady stream of students come and go, many leaving class and running to work. Vivian DiPiazza is a STEM and liberal arts student at MATC. She is in high school but will be 18 before the election and plans to vote for the first time. When considering whether to vote for President Biden or former President Donald Trump, she says neither are, quote, "super awesome choices," but she is leaning in one direction.

VIVIAN DIPIAZZA: They're two hard choices, but I'd probably vote for Biden.

SILVER: She supports his plan to eliminate student debt for some borrowers.

VIVIAN: If it's possible and, you know, they're able to forgive student debt even just to, like, some, like, small - like, a certain degree, I mean, like, that would be awesome. Like, I would love that.

SILVER: Other students, however, were wary of student loan relief in the first place. Matt Mathiason says he voted for Biden in 2020 but is now undecided.

MATT MATHIASON: As a student coming back to school as an adult, I've worked pretty hard to put myself in a position to be able to afford this. Not that I don't think that education should be affordable for everyone, but for those people who've worked hard to pay for their schools and haven't taken out loans, that doesn't seem equitable to me.

SILVER: Another student in the college's courtyard, 19-year-old Chloe Gabsch, has just finished class. She calls herself left-leaning and knows Biden came to speak to students last week about student loans. But that outreach hasn't convinced her. I mean, it's nice.

CHLOE GABSCH: I have friends that have student loans. I've been lucky enough to not need them, but - and they definitely feel crushed by them. But I mean, they still have lives to live, and people in Palestine don't.

SILVER: Earlier this month, 14% of Democratic primary voters in Dane County, home to Madison, marked their ballots as uninstructed. That's compared to about 8% statewide. Many use that option on their ballot as a way to protest the president's handling of the Israel-Hamas war. But students who are actively supporting the president's reelection bid say that students like Gabsch wouldn't find an ally in Biden's rival.

WHITMAN BOTTARI: Even if we don't agree with Biden on everything, he's always going to be better than Trump. He has better policies than Trump on the war in Gaza. And so not voting is just giving another vote to Trump and just going to make the situation worse overall.

SILVER: That's Whitman Bottari. She attends a different college campus a few miles away at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She's the communications director for the College Democrats. Bottari says they've been focusing on reproductive rights, affordable housing and making college affordable. But college Democrats are up against an enthusiasm gap. Alex Meinhof is a philosophy grad student and says there's a general malaise about politics on campus.

ALEX MEINHOF: The general attitude among people my age, I feel, is that the world sucks, and it keeps getting worse, seemingly. And we try to change it, but there's no response, and no one's listening.

SILVER: Meinhof is not sure yet who he'll be voting for or even if he'll cast a ballot come November. For NPR News, I'm Maayan Silver in Madison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Maayan Silver is an intern with WUWM's Lake Effect program. She is a practicing criminal defense attorney, NPR listener and student of journalism and radio production.

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