Young Students Show Political Awareness

Young Students Show Political Awareness

OCEAN CITY – What could a kid possibly know about the complexity of issues facing voters on Tuesday? The answer might just be “more than you think.”

It’s been said that kids soak up the world around them like little sponges. If that’s true, The Dispatch wondered what area kids have “soaked up” from what could the most intensely covered U.S. presidential election in history.

Some area students, ages pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, were asked what they knew about Tuesday’s race and the candidates that will become their president. The answers were intriguing, humorous, and sometimes, mind-blowing.

Virtually all of the kids polled knew which candidates were running, including most kindergarteners, but most surprising was how much they knew about each candidate.

When asked what they thought made someone a good president, the children’s answers were simplistic, but in their simple answers were some rock-solid ideas. The big thing that gathered from the kids’ views of the candidates was a simple word association: John McCain equaled “patriotism” in their minds while Barack Obama equaled “change.”

The children used words like “open”, “smart” and “good to us” to describe the man who will be president and said that the winning candidate should be the one who can not only “make the right decisions for our country” but also “believe in our nation and do what is right for it.”

For McCain, the majority of the children, in all grades, knew that he was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War and that he had “a lot of experience.” Some of the kids called McCain a patriot, loyal to military, and someone who wanted to send more troops to the war, lower taxes for rich people and disagreed with Obama’s opinions sometimes.

As for Obama, some children were confused whether he was from Kenya, Hawaii or Illinois, but the majority thought of him as the candidate that wanted to help people.

“He wants to give all kids healthcare and create more jobs,” said one second grader, and a first grader said Obama, “wants to get the troops out of Iraq and tax rich people.”

The views on Obama were of a wider range but much more specific than the views on McCain. Some were positive and well informed, citing his stances on health care, taxes and the economy, sometimes in great detail, to negative, with a handful of fourth graders citing they wouldn’t vote for Obama because he had a racist pastor and “had coffee with known terrorist Bill Ayres.”

Some voters have become cynical of politicians and that has apparently trickled down to some of the area’s children, as a surprising number of kids said that neither candidate would be able to carry out any of their promises.

Partisanship has been another big issue in this election and when asked what the difference was between Democrats and Republicans the kids were spot on.

Even kids as young as second grade equated the word conservative with Republicans and liberal to Democrats. They said Republicans were for lower taxes, spreading democracy, drilling for oil, the war and capitalism, while they said Democrats were for higher taxes, no war, more government control, better health care and creating more jobs.

The kids certainly knew more than expected concerning the “dire straits” that Wall Street is in, with some knowing the exact number of points the Dow Jones average went up the day before, and the vast majority of children thought that the biggest challenge facing the next president would be “fixing the economy” and the war in Iraq.

As far as whom the students would vote for, it was virtually split down the middle in the poll, but with that in mind, it should be noted that the National Scholastic Election Poll was released this week polling America’s youth. The vote of the youth has mirrored the outcome of the national election in every presidential race in history except for two (1948 and 1960). The students of America voted for Barack Obama to win with 57 percent of the vote.

Below is a sampling of some responses to The Dispatch’s student survey of grades pre-kindergarten through sixth grade:

What do you know about Barack Obama?

–He is pretty rich and wants to give up in the war.

— He is brilliant. He wants to make more jobs so more people can work.

— He wants to give money to people who aren’t working.

What do you know about John McCain?

— He’s great, cause he wants to lower taxes.

— He’s really old, but he was a POW.

— Whenever he gives a speech, his wife is always on the stage.

Where’s Wall Street and what’s happening there?

— Wall Street is two streets up from my grandmother’s house.

— It’s dangerous on Wall Street.

— It’s in New York, and they keep the stocks there.

What’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?

— Democrats like to help each other, Republicans like every man for himself.

— Democrats are represented by donkeys, and Republicans are represented by elephants.

— They have different opinions.

Who do you think should be president?

— I am unaffiliated at this time.

— Obama, because we have seen how Bush’s politics have helped America

— McCain, because he’s a hero.

What’s the biggest challenge for the next president?

— Getting the economy out of the slumps.

— If there are crashes in the stock market, the president should put up more traffic lights to prevent crashes.

— The biggest challenge may depend on who wins the election.