In Mock Elections, Who Wins the Student Vote?

Students have chosen between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in mock elections across the country, an exercise that encourages political engagement into adulthood.

In two days, voters will decide the next US president, but in elementary, middle and high school classrooms across the country, the votes have already been cast and counted. These mock elections give students a chance to have their say and teach a thing or two about political engagement.

So which presidential candidate is winning the student vote? That depends on who's holding the election. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton led among students in a number of mock elections held at the national level, though Republican candidate Donald Trump won a handful of mock elections held at the state or local level.

In this year's Scholastic Student Vote, which included 153,000 U.S. students in kindergarten through grade 12, Clinton won at least a plurality of students in 34 states, with 52 percent of the vote overall. Newsela's Students Vote 2016 also saw Clinton as the choice of 57 percent of the nearly 400,000 students from 16,000 schools nationwide. The University of Virginia's Youth Leadership Initiative mock election also went to Clinton, who won a 378 electoral votes based on the students' simulation.

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In a mock election held across 155 schools in Maine, Trump won, the preferred candidate of 10,785 students in kindergarten through grade 12. Students in Tennessee also favored Trump, with 51 percent going his way in a mock election involving 90 of the state's 95 counties. Minnesota schools gave Trump a narrow 2 percentage point victory among 77,000 student voters.

Perhaps mirroring an increasingly complicated political landscape, one mock election proved too turbulent to see through to a final vote. WABC reports that a vote due to be held in Jericho Elementary School in Centereach, N.Y., was canceled after the students' rhetoric got a little too heated. During a discussion of minority groups, voting and the candidates, "there were some negative things said," principal Glen Rogers told WABC.

Although these simulations aren't necessarily representative of the political preferences of a generation of soon-to-be voters, the mock elections do provide students the opportunity to practice civic engagement. Take the example of Appleman Elementary in Benton, Pa., which chose Trump in their mock election. Students organized their own polling places, filled out voter registrations cards and even played the roles of election officials and of course the candidates themselves, WNEP reports.

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Involvement in these sorts of student political activities can be a strong predictor of adult civic engagement, found a 2010 study published in the International Journal of Educational Research that analyzed survey data from the Youth Electoral Study in Australia. Based on their analysis, the authors conclude that school elections are a "cradle" of democracy.

"[S]tudents who do vote or run for office are also more prone to feel prepared to vote as adults, to actually intend to vote, to know more about politics, and to have already experienced some form of political activism, such as attending rallies or letter writing," the authors write.

Schools could play a key role in turning around what has in recent election been low registration and turnout among young, first-time voters. Among eligible voters ages 18-24, 58.5 percent are registered to vote. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), based at Tufts University, just 45 percent of voters ages 18-29 participated in the 2012 election, down from 51 percent in 2008. The last midterm elections had the lowest youth turnout ever recorded for a federal elections, with just 19.9 percent of voters ages 18-29 casting ballots.

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