Before the first votes were cast Monday in Iowa, we set out to see what the electorate would look like if children were the voters. Several weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon we gathered a small focus group of kids aged six to eight to get their unadulterated, gut reactions to the cast of characters vying for the White House.
Fueled by cookies and apple juice, six kids watched 60-second debate snippets of seven presidential candidates and then offered their thoughts.
Their responses to the candidates, were often hilarious, but not always spontaneous.
Sometimes it sounded like they were parroting things they’d heard, most likely at home.
(Disclaimer: These were children from the Washington, D.C. area, so they might be more exposed to political talk than children in other areas of the country.)
We later found ourselves wondering: Did the childrens’ responses to the candidates mirror that of adults? Or are adults responding to this campaign like children?
Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an expert in childhood education and development (and, actor Matt Damon’s mom), said one thing she’s noticed this election cycle is how much the adult candidates and political pundits sound like young children.
What she’s heard in a lot of the public discourse, she said, “is not an expression of what adult thinking can be.”
There is also something else childlike in the current electorate, said Vikram Jaswal, director of the Child Language and Learning Lab at the University of Virginia’s psychology department. A child’s default is to believe what they are told, without thinking critically. They don’t “learn to trust,” he said. “They trust to learn.”
He sees the same quality in some adult voters who blindly trust their preferred candidate.
The children first saw clips of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, followed by five leading GOP candidates: Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. The above video only shows the current front-runners. The enthusiasm gap for the others was pretty much as wide as it in most polls.
The kids were fairly blasé about most of the candidates, though they were excited to share their knowledge about Clinton.
But when it was time to show the Trump clip, they cheered eagerly, as if they knew this was the moment of true entertainment. Of course, that pretty much describes the entire country this election cycle.
Trump, way more than the others, elicited the most dramatic and, in some ways,
most authentic responses.
Of course, we’ve long known kids say the darnedest things – a quality Trump might appreciate.
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