More than individual popular votes, more than coffee cups, the best predictor of the presidential race? This year, as it largely has been since 1988, the best barometer are the kids.
While adults were standing in lines, snapping pics of "I voted!" stickers and watching real-time voting stats through the Facebook-powered election site, kids in this country were rocking their own vote.
In schools and online, childrens' opinions were heard in an election that elevated health care, contraception, abortion, war, foreign policy and taxation in the headlines. The issues might be big, but the tiny voices have been mighty -- and correct. In five of the six last elections, underage voters on the site Kids Pick the President have accurately elected the president. This year, the overwhelming choice by a half-million kid voters was President Barack Obama, with a final tally of 65%-35%.
Although turn-out on the site was down from a record 2.2 million votes cast four years ago, backers Nickelodeon attribute that to a change in their online process -- allowing only one vote per electronic device. While this might not totally prevent kids from double-dipping, they say they wanted to do more to replicate real voting and "ensure the votes were more authentic." Plus, frustrations over the electronic tallies may count as preparation for actual voting once kids turn 18.
Nine-year Judah Hansen, a third-grader from Wichita, Kansas, reported in that Obama got his vote in school yesterday.
"Because Obama kinda seems more responsible and he can switch from the nice guy to the strict guy. On the other hand hand, Romney seems willy-nilly. He'll say 'I'm going to do this' and then he'll go to another crowd and say 'I'm going to that' and then he ends up not doing anything," he said.
When mom Lacy asked why he didn't vote for the third-party candidate like his parents, he says he wasn't given the option. So why Obama?
"Obama has things he hasn't finished. People don't have jobs and there are issues about food," the younger Hansen said. "There are lots of bad things in food and he and his wife said they were going to help get rid of the bad things in food."
Barbara Davis said in Oklahoma, her child's vote went to the other candidate. Plus some.
"My six-year old voted for Mitt Romney," Davis told us. "and Tinkerbell."
Teens tally up
Melissa Summers says her daughter's high school outside Detroit held a mock election a week in advance of the real one.
"Ten percent Romney. Ninety percent Obama," Summers reported.
Election interest is especially high among teens, says Jennifer Powell-Lunder, PsyD. and co-author of Teenage as a Second Language. "Their ability to use abstract thinking usually results in a natural interest and concern for the outside world. The presidential election provides an opportunity for teen's to think about whom they believe will best lead the country."
Losing by marbles
Younger children may not yet have well-developed abstract-thinking skills or be tall enough to see what happens in the booth. But that didn't stop some kids from holding up their own election signs.
"The results according to my four-year old?," the Indianapolis mom who authors the blog GotchaBaby tweeted to GalTime yesterday. "'Romney only got one marble'."
Just outside the capital, Parentopia.com co-founder Devra Gordon Renner's older son participated in a middle-school mock election.
"According to my seventh grader, 85% voted for Obama," she told GalTime on Facebook. "We live in Fairfax County, Virginia. My son's comment was, 'Things must be different now. No one stole our Obama signs from our yard and most of my friends voted for him."
Renner said the family discusses politics but she doesn't pressure them to lean her way.
"I asked my son why he voted for Obama. I have never told my kids who I expect them to support and have always told them to make their own decision, but it must be an informed decision. Questions they have I answer and make clear I am representing my own decision and mind. I try to fair in how others view it. But my son's answer is he and his friends 'think Romney lies.' [They say], "He tells lies. We think the president should be honest.'"
Ilina Das Ewen of North Carolina says her sons' school re-elected Obama "by a landslide," and Robyn Roark says the results were the same in her son's class, although the margin of the win was unclear.
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Casting a snack ballot
Perhaps it is the youngest generation who had the most important decision to make on election day 2012. No, not choosing between candidates Romney and Obama. These kids had their hands full (literally) selecting snacks.
"My three-year old gets to vote for which snack they have at preschool," reports Amy Sneed Heinz of California. "Which is about as important as it gets at that age."
Also from the left coast, California mom Susan McGuire Shay says her preschooler cast a snack ballot from a fruit voting booth -- "apple, orange, red pear or green pear."
Sarah Kreis Hashman, mother of a teenager and a five-year old, explained on Facebook that both her daughters were learning about the democratic process in school. Her eighth-grader has been studying the measures and state amendments while her younger daughter has been voting early and often.
She shared: "Kindergartner Ruby has voting at school daily on non-political issues...like chocolate vs. vanilla!"
Dena Provenzano of Chicagoland said she was pleased her second-grader got to weigh in -- on her favorite author, adding that even she would (still) have a lot to say about Judy Blume.
The election is over and our POTUS has proudly made his victory speech. But that doesn't mean the political conversation needs to stop here.
"Whether in casual conversation or over dinner-time banter, now is the time to listen to what your [kids] have to say," Powell-Lunder advises. She especially encourages parents of teens to fill this time with teaching moments.
Powell-Lunder suggests that parents:
As your child's opinion. "Nothing strikes up a conversation more easily than a direct question," she says.
Listen to what your child has to say. "Even if you don't agree with him, hear him out," she offers. "If he presents misinformation or views you believe to be misguided, discuss this with him. Refrain from lecturing."
Make voting a family affair. Although this election cycle is over, soon enough there will be local elections to research, debate and participate in where you live. Start preparing for this now. Encourage your of-age teen to vote. Commit to taking all of your kids with you to vote. "What a great opportunity for a bonding experience," Powell-Lunder reminds. "Acknowledge what a big deal it is that she is of age to vote. Remind her that every vote counts."
Remember, you are raising the future leaders of this nation
"The sooner our future leaders demonstrate care and concern for our nation, the greater confidence we can all have that our future rests in the hands of competent and invested individuals," Powell-Lunder says.
Whether Decision 2012 was about apples or oranges, Obama or Romney for your child, this was the beginning of their era of voting for what they believe in. Whether their candidate prevailed or green pear-believers had a rough election night, this vote may have influenced a lifetime of lever-pulling for young Americans.
Did your children pick the POTUS?
What did your kids think of the election results?
More from GalTime.com:
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