The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Study: Bullying rates at Virginia middle schools were higher in Trump country after his election

In spring 2017, not long after President Trump took office, bullying rates among Virginia middle school students were 18 percent higher in places where voters had chosen Trump over Hillary Clinton, a study says.

There were no meaningful differences in bullying and teasing rates between Democratic and Republican localities before the 2016 election. But a statewide sample of more than 155,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students across Virginia’s 132 school districts suggested a correlation between voter preference and the rise in bullying after Trump was inaugurated.

The findings support reports by teachers nationwide about a rise in student bullying after the election, but this shows that the increase, at least in Virginia, was seen in Trump country.

The research, conducted by professors at the University of Missouri and the University of Virginia and published online Wednesday in a peer-reviewed journal, does not blame Trump specifically for the rise. But it says:

It is obviously difficult to demonstrate a causal link between statements by a public figure and schoolyard bullying. Nevertheless, there are incidents in which youth made threats and jeering statements that closely matched language used by President Trump. Such incidents are suggestive of the social learning model of aggression and classic studies showing how easily children model the aggressive behavior of adults.

Co-author Dewey Cornell, an education professor at the University of Virginia, said in a statement:

“While the ways in which the presidential election could have affected students is likely complex, educators and parents should be aware of the potential impact of public events on student behavior. Parents should be mindful of how their reactions to the presidential election, or the reactions of others, could influence their children. And politicians should be mindful of the potential impact of their campaign rhetoric and behavior on their supporters and indirectly on youth.”

Cornell conducted the study with Francis Huang, an associate professor of statistics, measurement and evaluation in education at the University of Missouri. It was published online in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

They found that a 10-percentage-point increase in voters supporting Trump was associated with a 5 percent jump in middle school teasing because of race or ethnicity and an 8 percent increase in middle school bullying.

The study took into account several locality-wide variables, including prior bullying and teasing rates, socioeconomic status, population density and the percentage of white student enrollment, the report said.