The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Biden wins big in national mock election among K-12 students

If the kids are mostly right, Joe Biden will be elected president Tuesday. And it won’t be close. The Democratic presidential nominee received 61 percent of the more than 168,000 votes cast by K-12 students across the country in an unscientific mock election conducted by Scholastic, an educational publishing and media company. President Trump earned 39 percent of the student vote. Scholastic announced the results Friday.

Biden performed best with 10th- and 11th-graders, among whom he received 65 percent of the vote to Trump’s 35 percent. Trump did a little better among kindergartners, first-graders and high school seniors, taking 42 percent of votes to Biden’s 58 percent.

Biden supporters may not want to celebrate just yet, however. In 2016, 52 percent of students in Scholastic’s mock election voted for Hillary Clinton to Trump’s 35 percent. The remaining votes were divided among other candidates.

Did we mention that this is not scientific?

Held every four years since 1940, the Scholastic Student Vote was created “to more deeply engage students in this civics learning experience, to give them practice in exploring issues, having respectful discussions, and making their voices heard,” Lauren Tarshis, Scholastic’s senior vice president, said in a statement. Virtual ballots were cast Aug. 24 through Oct. 27.

The mock election is not perfect as a predictor, but it has a pretty good win-loss record. The 2016 contest was only the third time since 1940 that the students’ choice didn’t match the national outcome. In 1948, students voted for Republican Thomas Dewey over incumbent Harry Truman. And in 1960 they opted for then-Vice President Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy.

In every other mock contest, students have voted for the eventual winner, though the margins of victories have varied, sometimes significantly, from the official result. In 2000, for instance, 51 percent of students voted for George W. Bush while 41 percent went for Al Gore. In the real showdown, Gore won the popular vote by half a percentage point but lost the bitterly fought electoral college contest 271-266 in one of the closest elections in U.S. history.

While holding mock presidential elections in schools has long been a rite of civics and U.S. government classes, many teachers say that they have been hesitant to hold them this year because of how divided the country has become. Even teaching about the election is fraught with challenges for educators.

“Just saying Biden or just saying Trump can be seen as being political,” Karalee Wong Nakatsuka, who has taught middle school U.S. history in Southern California for 30 years, told The Washington Post. “Just saying ‘political’ can be seen as being political”

Some teachers have said they worry about blowback from parents or community members if they teach about the election this fall, and others say they “wouldn’t touch it with 10-foot pole.”

As the election draws near, civics and government teachers walk a fine line

Joe Welch teaches at North Hills Middle School in a suburb of Pittsburgh that is closely divided between Republican and Democratic voters. Welch, Pennsylvania’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, didn’t want to avoid discussing the election and went ahead with plans to hold a mock presidential contest this year for the school’s seventh- and eight-graders.

Four years ago, students at the school gave Trump a two-vote victory, 736-734. In the real election, Trump won Pennsylvania by less than a percentage point.

This year at the school, it’s a Biden landslide. In results announced Friday, students voted for the former vice president by a 56 percent to 40 percent over Trump.

Exit polling asked students to identify their most important issues, and nearly half said covid-19 and health care were their primary concerns. Race relations and the economy/jobs also were significant issues.

“I think the change serves as continued evidence that no election is decided in a vacuum,” Welch said. “When I look at exit polling data from 2016 and today, the narrative that students are not engaged is proven untrue. In 2016, national security, terrorism and the economy were deciding issues. In 2020, it’s covid, race relations and jobs that are at the forefront of students’ minds.”

Better news for the Trump campaign came from Tennessee, where state officials on Friday announced the results of a statewide mock election. In the Volunteer State, Trump took 52.3 percent of the student vote while Biden earned 32.7 percent. The rapper Kanye West, who is on the official ballot in Tennessee and 10 other states, won 10.2 percent of the student vote. More than 37,000 students in 262 schools in the state took part. In the real presidential contest in 2016, Trump won Tennessee with 60.7 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 34.7 percent.

Neither the Trump nor Biden campaign responded Friday to requests for comment on the results of the Scholastic Student Vote.