Students’ sometimes-surprising presidential preferences

Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and educators in 280 Minnesota high schools did a wise thing this fall: They asked students, grades nine through 12, who they supported for president of the United States. nathan chart

As of Nov. 1, when initial results were released, about 77,000 students from Minnesota rural, suburban and urban, public and private schools had voted. Some of the results were not what I would have expected. Results are available for each individual high school at http://bit.ly/2fe0cI9.

As you consider Minnesota and national results on Election Day, you might want to compare how students voted, especially in your local community.

The first surprise, at least for me, was that almost a third of the high school students who voted preferred someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump: 35 percent of students voted for Trump and 33 percent voted for Clinton, so 32 percent had another preference.

Nine percent of the high school students wrote someone else in. For high school students, the two leading “third-party” candidates were Dan Vacek of the Legal Marijuana Now Party with 4,570 votes, or 5.93 percent, and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party with 4,371 votes, or 5.68 percent.

A second surprise was that students in several suburbs and exclusive private schools preferred Clinton. That was true, for example, in Wayzata, where students preferred Clinton over Trump by a margin of 397 to 286, in St. Louis Park, with 699 votes for Clinton vs. 123 for Trump, and in Hopkins, 467 for Clinton, 149 for Trump. It also was true at the private St. Paul Academy, where Clinton received 225 votes and Trump only 44, and Blake, which voted for Clinton 192-45. These results challenge “conventional wisdom” about wealthy and suburban voters preferring Republicans.

A third thing that I did not anticipate was the near universal support for Trump in greater Minnesota: Trump won the vote in well over 200 rural high schools, while Clinton won in fewer than 10.
Full disclosure: I supported Secretary Clinton. But regardless of whom you support, I think that Secretary of State Simon and educators in these communities who encouraged students deserve our thanks. They have encouraged high school students to think about the election and gave them a voice that is now being shared throughout the state. These adults are saying to students: “We want to know what you think.” That’s a great message to young people.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is director of the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]