By: Ian J. Smith
In 2012 schools nationwide hosted mock elections to find out whom their students would pick for president. The point of these is to shed light on a younger perspective and make students feel like they are part of the political action. While they may feel more politically responsible, these mock elections force children to choose a party and candidate when they have not yet acquired political views, thus shaping our political future.
Mock elections are different from school politics. In class or student body elections children are voting for their classmates. They get to make choices based on debates they have to attend and posters in hallways. In mock elections, children are voting for actual political parties and candidates.
What’s the problem with this? Elementary and middle school students do not engage in world or federal politics. This November, few of them will know Trump’s views on foreign policy are or what Clinton’s reform plans involve. Their comprehension of politics will be based entirely on their family and friends views.
It goes down to the youngest level. In 2012 my 4-year-old neighbor voted for president at his preschool. He was very proud of his vote, so I asked him how he made his decision. I received a puzzled look and the explanation “I’m supposed to vote for him.” With prodding, he explained that his mother wanted the candidate to win, so that was whom he had to vote for. This is the underlying problem with mock elections at such a young age. Without any knowledge on politicians, they are forced to resort to believing in whatever they hear at the kitchen table.
For young children the fear is of disappointing or angering their parents. It would be easiest, in their minds, to just agree with what their parents, their heroes, think. By middle school, children feel particularly attached to other’s views. When I made it clear whom my vote would go to in our mock election, a student with the opposing viewpoint repeatedly threatened to attack me unless I changed my vote. He had become so obsessed with political peer pressure that he would bully people into changing a vote that did not matter. This is how #SuperRepublicans and #CrazyDemocrats are formed. For these older children, politics becomes a way to swear your allegiance to or from your parents, to or from your friends.
So our generation learns to hate or love certain candidates and parties. When many of us become able to vote, our own view will become so jumbled with those around us that we no longer understand how we feel. So many will become Republicans because their parents were, or Democrats because their friends are, or maybe they just won’t vote because there are so many opinions around that it is impossible to discern how their own thoughts. Letting children vote might induce excitement, but its effects are shaping our political future.