Guest column: Students’ sometimes-surprising presidential preferences

by Joe Nathan – guest 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.

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 here: 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. Many polls have indicated that 90 percent or more of adults planned to vote for one of the two major party candidates.

However, 9 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.

Here are local examples of high school results:

Anoka, Blaine, Coon Rapids

Andover High School              Clinton 170      Trump 219

Anoka High School                 Clinton 256     Trump 366

Anoka Hennepin Technical School     Clinton 10       Trump 8

Blaine High School                 Clinton 59       Trump 130

Coon Rapids High School       Clinton 202     Trump 151

Northwest Passage (charter) High School (in Coon Rapids)

                                                Clinton 15       Trump 15

Bloomington Jefferson            Clinton 317     Trump 176

Elk River

Rogers High School                Clinton 212     Trump 527

Zimmerman High School        Clinton 64       Trump 231

Hopkins High School              Clinton 467     Trump 149

Minnetonka

Lionsgate Academy                 Clinton 25       Trump 27

Orono                                     Clinton 251     Trump 288

Richfield

Academy of Holy Angels         Clinton 107     Trump 106

Robbinsdale

Armstrong                               Clinton 344     Trump 132

Cooper                                    Clinton 549     Trump 125

St. Louis Park                         Clinton 699     Trump 123

Wayzata                                  Clinton 397     Trump 286

Full disclosure: I support 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]