Too young to vote but not too young to have political opinions, about 50,000 Iowa high school students took part in a statewide presidential straw poll this week, organized by the office of Iowa Secretary of State Paul D. Pate.
Students were allowed to cast votes both for one Democrat and one Republican candidate.
On the Democrat ticket, Sen. Bernie Sander (D-Vt.) captured 53 percent of the ballots statewide, easily outdistancing former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who polled 30 percent.
Billionaire businessman and reality-TV figure Donald Trump led the GOP field with 25 percent, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at 19 percent, Dr. Ben Carson at 18 percent and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at 15 percent.
Among Dallas County student voters, however, Rubio edged out Trump, with Cruz and Carson running a distant third and fourth.
Irregularities in the ballot returns among Perry High School students led to the omission of their votes from the countywide and statewide tallies.
Diane Gibson, U.S. government instructor at Perry High School, said unexplained anomalies in the returns cast the accuracy of the numbers into doubt, so she withheld the returns from the secretary of state’s office.
“We had some anomalies go on, and the number of votes that were put in the boxes were skewed,” Gibson said. Voting took place during lunch hour, she said, with students from her government class playing the part of poll workers. The size of the electorate might have overwhelmed the orderly accounting procedures, leading to the anomalies.
Even without exact numbers, Gibson could still report the general trends among the young voters.
“Bernie Sanders came away with an astonishingly high victory,” she said. “I thought it would be much closer between Hillary and Bernie with the student body, but it was much less close than I thought it was.”
On the Republican ticket, Gibson said it “was spread out, but Donald Trump won that one. There was an even spread then behind him: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush all were within the top there.” She said Carson trailed Trump by about eight votes, with the rest about 13 votes behind.
“It surprised me that Donald Trump did as well as he did,” Gibson said, “but then again it doesn’t surprise me because that’s what’s been in the media the most as far as Republicans.”
Gibson has taught government at PHS for 26 years. No one has had her finger on the pulse of youth political sentiment in Perry as steadily as she, so her opinion about the outcome carries weight, particularly her explanation of the Trump effect.
“I think people are really rather tired of establishment and political correctness per se,” Gibson said. “Trump’s out there, and he says it forthwith, and he’s telling it like a lot of people want to hear it, to an extent. I think that’s resonating with the public. I am really rather surprised he’s been in it as long as he has been, but he’s going to stick around until the media gets tired of him or the people get tired of him. I don’t know which.”
All the candidates are addressing the issues of immigration and refugees, particularly in relation to terrorism in Muslim nations. Many PHS students are from families that recently immigrated to the U.S., yet candidates’ appeals to our fear of the stranger is still powerful.
“It’s struck a chord with what has gone on with Syria and terrorists,” Gibson said. “It scares us, the fact that we can have people in our midst who are one day working among us, and next thing we turn around and they are shooting at us. It scares us. We’re scared with this atmosphere. And now that we have a lot of refugees coming in from an unknown area that is very anti-American, who’s to say that these refugees are all peace loving and just want to take care of their families? Is there an ulterior motive? Are they sending some people over? We don’t know. And how do we protect are own, which we want to do?”
The candidates offer differing solutions. One says we should carpet bomb the evildoers. Another says we should reject all Muslim immigrants. Another says we should deport all 11 million undocumented workers. Another says we should form coalitions with our Muslim allies in the war against terrorist extremism.
The students have spoken. The caucus goers will get their chance Monday night.