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Federal Campaign Notebook

Youth Presidential Polls Have Impressive Record, But Not All Can Be Right

November 02, 2004 4 min read

As voters prepared to go to the polls this week, another race was unfolding. Which youth poll would come closest to the actual result of the presidential election?

A number of major news outlets for children lay claim to having mock presidential votes with either a perfect or strong record of predicting the ultimate winner, so some reputations were on the line Nov. 2.

As of last week, President Bush had emerged as the winner in at least three such votes, while Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts was the victor in another.

Weekly Reader, the venerable newsmagazine for elementary school pupils, went for President Bush with 60.5 percent of the vote from children online and in classroom balloting supervised by teachers. Sen. Kerry got 30.8 percent.

The Weekly Reader poll has picked the winner in every presidential election since the Stamford, Conn.-based magazine started the mock vote in 1956.

Scholastic Inc., the New York City-based publisher of classroom magazines such as Scholastic News and Junior Scholastic, said its mail-in and online poll gave President Bush 52 percent and Mr. Kerry 47 percent. Scholastic’s polls have correctly predicted the actual winner in all but two presidential elections since 1940. (“Early Balloting: Children Choose President Bush in Scholastic Poll,” Oct. 27, 2004.)

The National Student/Parent Mock Election has been holding its vote five days before every presidential election since 1980. Although technicial difficulties this year led the program to keep its polls open until Election Day, Mr. Bush had the lead as of Oct. 29 with 50 percent. Sen. Kerry had received 42 percent.

The Youth Vote

News outlets and organizations conducted polls of young people on their preference in the presidential election. Voting methods varied, with some using classroom ballots and others collecting votes online. None of the polls claims to represent a scientific sampling.

Bush Kerry
Weekly Reader 60.5% 30.8%
Scholastic News/Junior Scholastic 52 47
Time for Kids 41.6 39.6
Channel One 55 40
Nickelodeon 43 57
National Student/Parent Mock Election* 50 42

As for predicting actual election results, that’s not something the organizers keep track of, said Gloria Kirshner, the president of the Tucson, Ariz.-based organization. “We go out of our way to point out that our purpose is far more important,” she said. “We are trying to educate future voters, not future pollsters.”

Meanwhile, Time For Kids, the classroom version of Time magazine, posted a running total for its online poll, which ended Oct 28.

Mr. Bush received 41.6 percent of the vote, and Mr. Kerry got 39.6 percent. The magazine was planning a separate online poll for children on Election Day.

Not all the youth polls are affiliated with classroom magazines.

Channel One, the Los Angeles-based television news show for secondary schools, conducted an online poll that went to President Bush with 55 percent of the popular vote, and 393 simulated Electoral College votes. Sen. Kerry got 40 percent of the vote and 145 electoral votes.

The Channel One poll has chosen the winner in its two previous presidential elections. Its approach is unusual in mimicking the Electoral College system to decide the winner.

The New York City-based Nickelodeon cable channel has been conducting its presidential poll since 1988, and has also been correct each time. This year, the popular children’s-programming channel was the outlier in the field. Its online poll picked Sen. Kerry, with 57 percent of the vote.

Linda Ellerbee, the executive producer, writer, and host of Nickelodeon’s “Nick News,” emphasized last week the unscientific nature of online polls. She added that she “can only guess that it is a reflection of how close the [presidential] race is.”

According to Nickelodeon research, children ages 2 to 11—the target audience of the channel’s poll—simply repeat the views of their parents, but by about the age of 12, children begin to separate from their parents’ views and form their own opinions, Ms. Ellerbee said.

In any case, said Jim Morris, the executive producer of Channel One News, people shouldn’t give too much weight to the youth polls.

“It’s a mock election. … I don’t think you can read anything into this,” he said. “Nor should you.”

We’ll Cast Our Mock Votes for President; Just Don’t Ask Us to Run for the Office

Whomever the nation’s youths would pick to run the country if the voting age were lower, a majority apparently do not themselves aspire to the Oval Office.

The Framingham, Mass.-based Staples Foundation for Learning and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, based in Atlanta, surveyed nearly 900 11- to 13-years-olds about the election, their ambitions for the future, and what issues were most important to them.

Fifty-seven percent of the respondents said they did not want to be president. On the question of what are the most important qualities of a leader, 43.5 percent said honesty and trustworthiness, while 33 percent picked strong ethics and good character.

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