Here's What Some Austin Students Think About the 2016 Presidential Election

Sep 20, 2016

For many middle and high school students, this year’s presidential election is their introduction to American politics and it’s an unusual election to start with. At Kealing Middle School, about a dozen students are taking an elective called Presidential Politics. They study the current presidential election — and local races, too. 


KUT spoke to some students in the class: Anya, Ava, Flynn, Soren and Stella. (We’re referring to them by their first names because they’re 12 and no one needs their middle school opinions following them around on the internet forever). And these students have a lot of opinions about this year's election, the candidates, the rhetoric and the issues they find important.

Here's what we learned: 

Most students in the Presidential Politics class support Hillary Clinton.

“My thoughts about the election are mixed. I liked Hilary Clinton a little but bit I didn’t like her because of the emails. Donald Trump, he wants to ban Muslims, and I don’t really think that’s fair.” – Anya 

“I was following that Donald Trump was doing some crazy stuff that I was not very interested in at all. And I am definitely for Hillary Clinton. I am more of a Democrat than a Republican, I can say for sure.” – Stella

Anya and Soren research 2016 presidential candidates for their Presidential Politics class at Kealing Middle School.
Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

"[Hillary Clinton] would be the first woman president, which would be great. I do agree with her on a lot topics. She's a moderate Democrat." – Soren

Most of the time, these students believe what their parents believe, but some students are starting to form their own opinions.

“I mean they’re my parents, so I’m going to take more influence from them.” – Stella

"[My father] thinks [Donald Trump] might be a good person to vote for because he can get what he wants, but he feels Trump is very abrupt and doesn't have a filter on his mouth. Hillary Clinton, what I like about her is she talks firmly and she makes her point clear, and she doesn't necessarily not tell us what she's doing to do, unlike Donald Trump, who hasn't really told us how he's going to solve problems." – Anya

These students say they don’t take Donald Trump seriously.

“Sometimes if Donald Trump does something ridiculous, like ejects a baby from a rally, it will be something like a laughing matter. He just insults his opponents and is just kind of a ruthless, angry bully.” – Soren

"Building that wall. I was like, 'What?' In this class we've talked about how [Donald Trump] doesn't give any reasons for how he's going to solve problems. He'll be like, 'I'm going to do this. I'm going to make it better.' His slogan is 'Make American Great Again,' but how are you going to do that exactly?" – Stella

Stella says she thinks Donald Trump stokes fear of particular groups of people as a way to garner support.
Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

“Some of the things that Mr. Trump was specifically saying were mean and racist. He was saying to build a wall to keep the Hispanics out, or to keep the Mexican immigrants out, and it seems like we should allow people in instead of not be able to come.” – Flynn

These students are concerned about gun control, terrorism, education, climate change and LGBT rights.

"I don’t think everyone should be able to have a gun. I think only if you need it for if you’re in the military you should be able to have a gun.” – Flynn

“I want to know what’s going to happen with gun rights, especially since the accidents that have been happening.” – Ava

"It doesn’t feel very great when you listen to the news and you hear 49 people have been killed, and, so, it’d be nice if one of next presidents could help control that.” – Anya

“I think [guns are] a very large problem that many, many people are dying and it should be fixed as soon as possible.” ​– Soren

“I just want American to be a good country where everyone is equal and can do as they please."-Stella

This election's having a negative impact on some students' views

According to a study from the Southern Poverty Law Center, this year’s election is having a negative effect on students—especially students of color. Nationally, teachers surveyed have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse and anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment. 

“I’ve kind of gotten used to it now, of all the hate for Muslims and everything. I don’t really like to share my religion with people because it doesn’t make me feel comfortable. Most people don’t know I am Muslim. They just assume I might be Christian or something so they don’t bother me. I feel it’s not fair because every time there’s a Muslim terrorist, it’s 'Oh, yeah, they were trying to harm people.' I remember there was a Christian terrorist, and we just said ‘He’s mentally ill.’ Well, Muslims can be mentally ill.” – Anya

This story was produced in collaboration with the Annette Strauss Institute’s Lebermann Forum.