Pint Size Pundits

11/23/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Melina Bellows Chief Education Officer at National Geographic Society

Opinions are flying.

"C'mon people! Sarah Palin is a pro-lifer and very conservative. What's not to like??? I would have voted for Mr. Maverick regardless."

"McCain only chose this airhead to try and win over the people who would vote for Hillary and it just backfired and he's stuck with her."

"Obama is always talking about change. Then he picks a running mate who is very normal. It's like going to an ice-cream store and choosing vanilla."

"Biden is strong on foreign policy. Obama's chosen a sensible, experienced man for the job, who will help him run the country properly."

If you're sick of listening to know-it-all pundits, partisan rhetoric and negative campaigning, you should definitely avoid the school yard, because the quotes you just read are all from kids.

As the election is reaching fever pitch, it turns out that the newest constituents adding to the din are tweens. According to two recent polls conducted by National Geographic Kids magazine, 99% of kids can identify the candidates and 90% of kids discuss the election with friends or family. Only 5% replied that they were not interested in the upcoming election, and that's probably due to more pressing issues like math homework, soccer practice and what to be for Halloween.

Kids not only know what the major issues are, but are vocal in what they want changed. Kids say ending the war in Iraq (59%) and stopping global warming (55%) are the most important issues facing our country. Economic issues such as gas prices and job creation have inched up a bit since July, and the list doesn't end there. Other issues important to kids are "animal rights," "catching Bin Laden" and "fixing the economy, ha."

The opinions shared by kids were not only shockingly astute, but well informed, suggesting that they are absorbing information from several sources, from the family dinner table to adult news weeklies to staying up late and watching the debates.

"Palin has a wonderful way of proving a point. I love listening to her talk, it's persuasive and truthful," wrote one reader.

"I read Time magazine, and they brought up many good points as to why Sarah Palin was a bad choice. Mainly it's because she's very much into wars," said another.

"While I would have liked Mrs. Clinton, I have heard many good things about Senator Biden. I've had relatives who've met him and say that he is an honest man. I can't recall many bad things about him that have been in the press."

They even seem to grasp some of the inside-the-beltway maneuvering. "McCain isn't as conservative as I am, so Palin is a good balancer," wrote one reader. Another explains why Joe Biden was a strategic pick: "Barak Obama did something called 'balancing the ticket' by choosing an older man from the east coast."

Kids not only are clear about their political views, but indicate that they are ready for change. Nearly seven in 10 kids (69%) said they think the United States is ready for an African-American president, and six in 10 (63%) think the country is ready for a female president. Nearly eight in 10 (78%) kids think the United States is ready for a female VP. This may be due to the fact that these 10- and 11 year-olds have had the same president since they were old enough to remember. They, like their parents, are ready for different ideas.

Kids had surprisingly strong opinions on how the VP selections would impact the vote. Seven in 10 (70%) respondents said that Obama's choice of Joe Biden didn't change how they would vote.

"Though Mr. Biden may speak a little too much, he has lots of experience in foreign policy, and it would help children my age with Obama being such an inexperienced candidate," said one.

Although the poll takers indicated that they are ready for a female VP, they may not be ready for Sarah Palin. Nearly a third (31%) of respondents said that McCain's choice of Palin made them more likely to vote for Obama.

Troopergate came up. "She would abuse her power like she did as governor of Alaska when she fired someone for refusing to fire her ex-brother-in-law after he divorced her sister. Also, she does not believe in dinosaurs. She thinks creationism should be taught in the public schools," wrote one reader.

Palin's pregnant daughter was also something kids felt strongly about. "I do not want someone with a 17-year-old pregnant daughter to be helping our country," wrote in one reader.

It was clear by the write-ins that kids are conflicted about the role of mother being mixed with VP. "She has a lot of kids, and I would prefer if she took more care of them," and "She faces family issues just like the rest of the country. She is also a Christian and hunts."

So who do kids choose? 52% said they'd vote for Obama, 38% picked McCain and 10% were still on the fence. When asked who they thought their parents would vote for if the election were held today, essentially equal numbers of respondents selected each candidate: Obama (40%) and McCain (38%). The remainder said they were not sure, their parents were split or don't vote.

No matter who wins, this young constituency is invested. Some people might be alarmed or discouraged to see such a polarization of Americans so young, however, engagement is better than apathy any day. They may be parroting grown-up conversations of their parents and the news media today, but as their minds continue to shape and grow, they will be affecting the world as much as the world will be affecting them. Not only are today's kids ready to embrace a new world, but they are expecting it.

"An African American president or a female VP? Either way you vote, you will be changing the country," wrote one reader, who will have to wait eight years to get his chance.