Move over, pundits. Kids across America have got the 2008 presidential election all figured out.
In a poll of a quarter of a million students who are too young to vote, Democratic nominee Barack Obama sailed to victory with 57 percent of the vote while Republican nominee John McCain received 39 percent.
It may be easy to dismiss the poll — orchestrated every four years by Scholastic, a children’s publishing and media company — as mere child’s play. But here’s the uncanny thing about this educational exercise: Since 1940, student voters have accurately chosen all but two presidents.
The two off-base years were 1948, when students picked Thomas Dewey over Harry Truman, and 1960, when they chose Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy.
“Dewey-Truman was really close … and newspapers got that wrong, too,” noted Suzanne Freeman, executive editor of Scholastic Kids Press Corps and Scholastic News Online.
And officials with Scholastic like to point out that students cast their votes for Nixon and JFK before the first televised debate between those two candidates proved to be such a key turning point in that election.
Why so accurate?
The election poll, conducted through paper ballots found in Scholastic’s classroom magazines and online at Scholastic News Online, was open to all elementary, middle and high school students across the United States. The poll opened at the start of the school year and closed on Oct. 10. Most voters were in the third through eighth grades and ranged in age from about 8 to about 13.
“It’s important to let kids have a voice,” Freeman said. “It helps prepare them for when they’re older and they do get the vote … It makes them feel more entitled to knowing what’s going on in an election.”
How do such young people consistently pick the right candidate? Scholastic officials say they’re likely mirroring what they hear their parents talking about at home — to a point, at least.
“Kids are more excited about this election than they were in the last two,” Freeman said. “They’re following it closer, and I think we may be getting more of what the kids really think …
“I’m sure a lot of it still reflects what they’re hearing at home because kids are like that … but these kids are much more involved.”
Scholastic introduced online voting for the first time in 2000. This year Scholastic was careful to include a variety of filters on its Web site to prevent adults from weighing in and skewing the results.
Millions of young people have cast their votes for the next president since Scholastic began giving them the opportunity to do so in 1940.
In the recent past, students chose George W. Bush over John Kerry and Al Gore in 2004 and 2000 — meaning that in 2000, student voters still got it right even though they didn’t reflect the result of the popular vote.
Write-ins and swing states
This year saw the highest percentage of write-in votes in the history of the poll, with 4 percent of students voting for other candidates. Write-ins included Sen. Hillary Clinton, Congressman Ron Paul, Independent candidate Ralph Nader and a smattering of votes for TV personality Stephen Colbert.
Obama swept both his home state and McCain’s, garnering 67 percent of the vote in Illinois and 54 percent in Arizona. McCain received 30 percent of the vote in Illinois and 42 percent in Arizona.
Here is a look at how students voted for McCain and Obama in key swing states:
- Colorado: McCain, 61 percent; Obama, 36 percent
- Florida: McCain, 41 percent; Obama, 55 percent
- Indiana: McCain, 51 percent; Obama, 47 percent
- Iowa: McCain, 48 percent; Obama, 49 percent
- Michigan: McCain, 40 percent; Obama, 57 percent
- Missouri: McCain, 49 percent; Obama, 47 percent
- Ohio: McCain, 47 percent; Obama, 51 percent
- Pennsylvania: McCain, 46 percent; Obama, 50 percent