A poll of 400 MHS students, which asked respondents to state who they support for President and where they stand on a handful of major issues, found that the majority of the high school supports Hillary Clinton in her campaign to be the next president of the United States.
With 64.6% of the vote, she trounced Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who failed to secure a majority of the 25.4% of students who didn’t support Clinton.
Considering the “electorate,” the results are hardly surprising. New York has voted for Democrats in the last seven presidential elections, and younger Americans tend to be more liberal than the average voter. According to the Pew Research Center, 41% of Millennials lean left, while only 15% are likely to identify as conservative. Within New York, Westchester County is even more of a liberal bastion. As AP US Government and Politics teacher Mr. Liberti explained, “Large coastal metropolitan areas tend to be more liberal and thus have more registered Democrats and independents who lean Democratic.” Some characteristics that cause this liberal tilt include “cosmopolitan culture,” and “ethnic and religious diversity.” Since, according to Mr. Liberti, “your family almost always predicts your politics,” it makes sense that most students are Democrats in a liberal area.
According to the results of the poll, Clinton also appears to hold a decisive advantage on the issues. About 54% of respondents favor accepting more Syrian refugees, which correlates with her plan to accept 55,000 more refugees per year, and about 80% want more action on climate change, which Trump denies exists. Meanwhile, almost 75% of MHS wants stricter gun laws, and eight in ten students agree that abortion is a woman’s unrestricted right. On strife between police and minorities, a particularly contentious issue, most students are also in accord with Clinton: Around 72% believe that police should be held more accountable for their treatment of African Americans.
Predictably, students’ issues of greatest concern also side with Clinton. The democratic nominee has put more emphasis than Trump on the issues of racial discrimination, gun control, climate change and income inequality, which, when combined, add up to 53% of what respondents care about most. However, Trump has concentrated more on the issue that the most students (27.7%) listed as their primary concern: terrorism. Interestingly enough, one area in which students seem to side with Trump is the direction of America. Throughout the campaign he has struck a negative tone about the state of the nation, warning about threats like terrorism and increased globalization. His outlook appears to resonate with much of MHS, given that 40% of respondents disagree with the statement that America is moving in the right direction, while only 20% agree.
To justify their negative responses to whether America is moving in the right direction, many respondents cited the candidates themselves. One student from the Class of 2017 stated that “Candidates tend to be a reflection of the nation’s values . ” He then asked, “How, based on the two presidential candidates, can one say that [the candidates] are not a reflection of a negative shift in our nation’s attitude?”
Trump, in particular, attracted lots of negative attention. Another student, also from the Class of 2017, based her reasoning for America’s negative trajectory on Trump’s rise. She wrote that “Nativism is on the rise again, as Trump’s ascendancy shows. All over the world, nativism and fear have spread. This must end. Terrorism is undoubtedly a threat, but we must not be carried away by the inflammatory hyperbole of demagogues like Donald Trump.”
While the student in question voted for Gary Johnson, many respondents repelled by Trump chose to vote for Clinton instead. In fact, out of the 150 respondents that gave a reason for why they chose Clinton, 64 said that it was because they didn’t want Trump to be president. The “lesser of two evils” mindset correlates with the nation as a whole. According to Real Clear Politics, only 43% of Americans view Clinton favorably, and only 35% of Americans view Trump favorably. These favorability ratings are the lowest among presidential candidates in modern political history.
Also similar to the nation as a whole, the ratio of support for Clinton among females (70.6%) was higher than that among males (58.4%). While females generally tend to vote more democratic–Fifty nine percent of females s u r v e y e d identified as democrats, compared to 49% overall–the unusually high level of support for Clinton seems to suggest unique dynamics at play. Two possible factors include the historic significance of a Clinton presidency, and Trump’s behavior towards women.
On the role of Clinton’s historic run, Mr. Liberti explained that “Identity politics, in this case gender, is clearly playing a role. Having the first possible female president means a great deal to many women, particularly older women.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s comments have alienated many conservative women, including political pundit Ana Navarro. She has said that Trump is a “crazy orange man with an unidentifiable furry object on his head ranting into the wind,” and has gained notoriarty by quoting Trump’s profanities on live television.
Another unique aspect of the 2016 election has been the disconnect between the major party candidates and those whom they represent. This anomaly can be seen by looking at the composition of those who support third-party candidates. Over a third of the students who said they would vote for Evan McMullin, Jill Stein or Gary Johnson are Democrats (11.6%) or Republicans (23.3%). Republicans even outnumber Libertarians in their support of Gary Johnson.
The other third party candidate some Republicans support is Evan McMullin. The Independent candidate has gotten attention at MHS because, as one student stated, he “is a traditional Republican candidate.” His perception is bolstered by McMullin’s qualifications, which include working in the CIA and serving as the Republican’s Chief Policy Director in the House of Representatives. McMullin is currently neck and neck with Trump and Clinton in Utah, which means he has a chance to be the first Independent candidate to win a state in the Electoral College since 1968.
Part of the reason this election cycle has become so unconventional is a lack of trust in the government. Of the students polled, about 20% expressed that they are closer to not trusting the government at all than trusting it completely. This is actually quite mild when compared to the rest of the nation; a poll by the Pew Research Center revealed that only 25% of Americans trust the federal government to do what is right most of time.
Interestingly enough, the poll of MHS students revealed that students who support Trump are less likely to trust the federal government. Almost 45% of Trump supporters ranked their trust in government as a one or a two on a five-point scale, while only 12% of Clinton supporters did the same.
An explanation for the trust gap can be found by examining how the two candidates sell themselves. Clinton often talks about her experience in government, pointing to how she worked to help victims of 9/11 and to hunt down Osama Bin Laden, while Trump has often emphasized that he should be president because he is not a politician. At a recent campaign event in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he said that he would work to impose term limits on members of Congress and fight against corruption in his first 100 days in office.
Reflecting the high level of partisanship in contemporary politics, differences between Trump and Clinton supporters extend into their positions on major issues of the campaign. Particularly stark divides can be found on the topics of accepting more Syrian refugees and the relationship between police and African-Americans: About 85% of Trump supporters are against accepting more refugees, while 67% of Clinton supporters are for it; 60% of those who voted for Trump don’t believe that police need to be held more account – able for their treatment of African-Americans, while 83.7% of Clinton voters do.
Unique from the nation as whole, the one issue where supporters of both candidates agreed was abortion. Despite Trump’s promise to appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, 51.8% of his supporters agree that abortion is a woman’s unrestricted right. Meanwhile, in what appears to be the largest majority of the entire poll, 90.7% of those who voted for Clinton also agree.
Though there are scores of possible takeaways from the results of the poll, a major lesson has been that the political climate of MHS is different than that of the rest of the country. National support for Trump is currently more than double what he has at MHS (38% to 14.5%); Clinton’s 12 point national lead is much smaller than the 50 points she leads by in the high school. When looking at what MHS students think, it is important to remember that the results do not represent the nation as a whole.
By Jack Mollin