Penn school kids
pick Obama, 70%
over Clinton, 28%
US primaries lure even those too young to vote … from
; to ; to Broward County, FL
By JACQUES STEINBERG, with MEGAN THEE
FLOURTOWN, Pa. – The primary race between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama could be decided in places like this bedroom community in southeastern Pennsylvania, where polls show the two Democratic presidential candidates running tight.
So it was with obvious gravity that 74 fourth-graders at Elementary School assembled this week behind the glass and tan brick walls of their classrooms to debate the campaign’s central issues. The children, most 9 or 10, then signaled their preferences for the Democratic nomination in a gradewide straw poll.
“It’s a battle between man and the environment, and the environment’s losing right now,” Michael Kassabian announced to his fellow voters in Renea Boles’ room, before explaining that he was endorsing Mr. Obama at least partly because of the candidate’s enthusiasm for renewable energy sources.
MS. RENEA Boles, teacher of fourth-graders at Elementary School in ., explains the straw poll process to her class and shows them the ballot they would be using.
Henry Centeno said that the candidates’ stances on health care should take precedence, and that his support depended on which candidate would guarantee health insurance for anyone age 25 or younger. Why 25? “If it’s 25,” he said, “Miss Boles would still have free health care.” (His teacher, he knew, is 24.)
Just as their parents and grandparents are paying close attention to the drawn-out fight for the Democratic nomination, so too are those who will not cast an official vote for president for another decade or so. While no polling outfit has systematically canvassed those Americans who are more attuned to the nuances of Hannah Montana than , the enthusiasm generated by similar straw polls in places like Austin, Texas; ; and , suggests that young children are more engaged in this year’s presidential race than any other in recent memory.
HENRY CENTENO of Erdenheim Elementary School in . makes a point on Tuesday, a week before the April 22 local state primary, about how the Democratic presidential candidates can help young students like him.
That is at least partly because even the youngest school-age children are aware that either Democratic nominee would make history. So, for that matter, would the presumed Republican candidate. “McCain would be the oldest elected president,” said Anthony Bosca, another student in Miss Boles’ class.
The war in Iraq and the calls by the Democratic candidates to withdraw American troops also loom large. When the children in Miss Boles’ class were asked if they knew anyone who had served in , Elizabeth Reynolds shot up her hand. “Dana’s uncle,” she said, pointing toward Dana Jones, who related how her uncle had recently returned from a tour in the Army, but would soon be going back to .
KID ISSUES. The war in Iraq, and the calls by the Democratic candidates to withdraw American troops, loom as large issues in the straw poll. When the children in Renea Boles’ class at Elementary School in are asked if they know anyone who has served in , Elizabeth Reynolds shoots up her hand. “Dana’s uncle,” she says, pointing toward Dana Jones, who then explains how her uncle has recently returned from a tour in , and will soon be going back.
The children here have been bombarded with television commercials for the candidates in recent weeks – with those in Miss Boles’ class saying they had seen campaign advertisements during “American Idol,” “ ,” “ ,” CBS’s coverage of the and even on .
“It’s just a frenzy,” said Barbara Stefano, whose fourth-grade classroom is down a blue-and-cream cinder block corridor from Miss Boles’, and who has been teaching for 44 years. “They know a lot more than they ever have. They know there’s a primary. I don’t ever remember talking about the primary in class before.”
REALITY CHECK. The school children at in . say they have seen campaign advertisements during game and reality shows “ ,” “ ,” “ ,” CBS’s coverage of the and even on . Barbara Stefano says of her fourth-grade students, “They know a lot more than they ever have. They know there’s a primary. I don’t ever remember talking about the primary in class before.”
The students are also talking about the presidential race with their parents, and even doing some independent research.
“I remember something I learned about Hillary,” Elizabeth told her classmates. “It’s not like a marriage between Hillary and Bill. It’s more like an agreement. She helps him. He helps her.”
Asked where she had gleaned this information about Mrs. Clinton, from , and her husband, the former president, she said, “I saw it on AOL.com.”
Sitting nearby, Ethan Steinberg sought to summarize the Democratic candidates’ Senate votes on an early measure to authorize the war. “At first Hillary wanted the war to go on,” he said, recounting a newspaper article he had read. “Then a little later she changed her mind and wanted the troops to come home. Obama voted that the troops shouldn’t go to war. He thought it would cause too many problems.”
After the children spent time discussing short position papers that the teachers had prepared on subjects like health care and education, it was time to vote.
VOTING YOUNG. Fourth-graders at Elementary School in fill out forms with their views about campaign issues after learning those of the Democratic candidates of and of .
Soon after, Colin Criniti, the classroom’s resident expert on Senator John McCain of – he had dutifully reported to his teacher when Mr. McCain’s opponent Mitt Romney dropped out of the race – raised a hand.
“If Hillary or Obama win, they will pull the troops out of the war,” Colin said. “I think it’s a stupid idea. We’ll lose everything we’ve worked for.”
Colin said he was supporting Mr. McCain, who, he said, offered the promise of a more measured approach to the war.
BAM AND LUNCH. The opinions of schoolchildren at Erdenheim in . regarding national issues are recorded. One student puts more immediate concerns to paper.
Each child received a thin strip of white paper with open boxes next to the names of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama, of . (Since there is no contested Republican primary in , the teachers had focused on the Democratic race.)
“Fold it once,” Miss Boles instructed. “No origami.”
The children then stuffed their ballots into a cardboard box that had been wrapped in bright yellow paper.
TEACHING ’EM YOUNG. There is no contested Republican primary in , so the teachers focus on the Democratic race. The students at in . stuff their ballots into a cardboard box that have been wrapped in bright yellow paper.
Later, the teachers announced the gradewide results [for 74 students]: 52 votes [or 70 percent] for Mr. Obama and 21 votes [or 28 percent] for Mrs. Clinton (with one ballot [or 2 percent], marked for both candidates, disqualified). In Miss Boles’ class, the vote was more lopsided: Mrs. Clinton garnered just 2 of the 20 votes cast [only 10 percent for Clinton but 90 percent for Obama].
But to their teachers, the children’s preferences were less important than their embrace of politics.
“I feel better about our future,” said Mrs. Stefano, 62. “I’m getting to the point where I’m going to need these kids to take care of me. This gives me hope.”
OBAMA FOR HOPE AND FUTURE
The gradewide results at Elementary School in . are 52 votes for and 21 for . In Ms. Boles’ class, the vote is more lopsided: Clinton garners just 2 of the 20 votes cast. To the teachers, the results are less important than the way the children embrace politics. “I feel better about our future,” says Ms. Stefano (right). “This gives me hope.”