- We asked more than 1,400 high school students in grades 9 to 12 to evaluate President Donald Trump and provide reasons for their approval or disapproval of the president.
- An 18-year-old female, for example, expressed her approval of Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
- Additionally, our findings may be interesting to several U.S. districts mulling whether to lower the voting age from 18 to 16.
- Lincoln’s ultimate success as a leader during the Civil War depended on his relationship with the Army, especially with its commanders.
Teenagers reveal what they really think of Donald Trump
Teenagers in the United States are informed about their political world and capable of effectively evaluating political leaders, including President Donald Trump.
This statement runs counter to stereotypes that adults tend to hold about teens. Ask most adults to describe the political abilities of the typical American adolescent and you may hear words like “apathetic,” “uninformed” and “immature.”
But a study I conducted in 2017 with Laura-Wray Lake of UCLA, Amy Syvertsen of the Search Institute and two of my graduate students, Lauren Alvis and Katelyn Romm, indicates that high school students are much more knowledgeable – and have stronger feelings – about their political world than they are usually given credit for.
We asked more than 1,400 high school students in grades 9 to 12 to evaluate President Trump and provide reasons for their approval or disapproval of the president. The teenagers came from Southern California near Los Angeles, suburban Minnesota and rural West Virginia. They were diverse – 43% identified as Latino, 34% as white, 13% as African American and 6% as Asian American – and lived in communities that support and oppose Trump.
A wide range of views
Several key themes emerged from the responses.
One was enthusiasm. Teens had a lot to say about Trump. Both youth who approved of Trump and those who did not provided thoughtful reasons for their views of the president. Many youth wrote sophisticated responses that counter stereotypes of adolescents as indifferent to their political world.
Another theme was knowledge. Teens supported their views by pointing to specific policies or statements by the president. Many of them justified their opinions by mentioning Trump’s policies on social and political issues such as economic policy, abortion and relationships with foreign countries.
A large percentage of teens mentioned immigration, pointing to specific Trump statements or policy proposals, like the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
An 18-year-old female, for example, expressed her approval of Trump’s immigration policies: “Regarding issues with immigrants and stuff, I am not completely against it. I think we should be more aware of who and what kind of people we are allowing into our country, to keep everyone safe.”
A 15-year-old white female had this to say about Trump’s border policies: “I just don’t understand how that would make us great again. Because America is made up of immigrants, so it wouldn’t be America if he didn’t allow immigrants.”
“I feel that [Trump] will bring more jobs to the economy since he is a businessman,” said a 17-year-old Latina.
On the other hand, youth who disapproved of Trump pointed to his lack of political experience.
“Trump is going to do many things such as lower taxes, repeal Obamacare and try to institute the travel ban,” wrote an 18-year-old white male. “He also is not going to be a gun control freak.”
A 17-year-old African American female said: “I give [Trump] some credit because he is against abortion and gay marriage.”
By contrast, a 15-year-old white female from Minnesota wrote: “President Trump is a climate change denier. He also is in support of ‘defending the Second Amendment,’ which I also believe in. However, I also understand that gun violence is rampant in the United States and needs to be regulated more heavily.”
The responses we gathered help counter another stereotype about American adolescents: that they are overwhelmingly liberal and likely to vote for Democratic candidates.
Yes, younger generations lean more liberal on some social and political issues compared to older generations. But our study indicates that it’s inaccurate to generalize about teens’ political inclinations, because they hold a full range of views.
Teen views of Trump, like those of adults, were strongly related to where they live. Overwhelming majorities of adolescents in Southern California (85%) and Minnesota (84%) disapproved of Trump, but a majority of youth in West Virginia held positive views (66%). Adolescents with more conservative parents were more likely to approve of Trump, while youth from more liberal homes more strongly disapproved of the president. White youth generally held more favorable views of Trump, while females and black and Latino youth tended to reject him.
Our study also helps counter the notion that adolescents are not directly affected by political activity, that they have “no skin in the game.”
Adolescents in rural West Virginia underlined how Trump’s energy policies could directly affect family members employed by power plants or coal mines. This is how one 14-year-old white female put it: “I am happy Donald Trump is our president because my dad works for a power company, and that is how we made the majority of our money. Without his job we would have a hard time buying medicines and taking care of everyone in my family.”
Many teen Trump skeptics from Southern California noted how his proposed immigration policies could threaten their families or neighborhoods. A 15-year-old Latina, for instance, noted: “I am very scared [Trump] will harm my family. My parents are not from this country, but they do the best they can to be here with us and have us live the American dream.”
Sensitivity to discrimination
One final theme present in our study highlights issues that will weigh on younger voters in the 2020 election and beyond. A large percentage of responses were framed around issues of racism, sexism and homophobia. Over half of the youth who dismiss Trump viewed his policies as potentially biased or loaded with discriminatory rhetoric, which is consistent with data indicating that younger generations are more attuned to issues of equity.
These concerns were not limited to any one group of teens. For example, an 18-year-old white male from West Virginia said, “[Trump] is misogynistic and sexually offensive as audio clips of Donald Trump would prove more than once … going as far to make fun of a disabled man in front of national television.”
As this response shows, teenagers are more politically informed and opinionated than is usually assumed. This should encourage parents and teachers to engage teens in political discussion and anticipate that they will be able to effectively share informed views.
At very least, this study may help to counter concerns that youth don’t care or will arrive at polls uninformed.
Connecting with the people
Lincoln was equally deft at relating to the public, having developed a carefully crafted ordinariness over his 30-year career of political campaigning in Illinois. That included cultivating a reputation for accessibility. As movie viewers saw in Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film “Lincoln,” his White House was open to all visitors and petitioners.
On the president’s daily rides to and from his favorite summer retreat in Washington, the cottage in Rock Creek, he passed soldiers’ hospitals and contraband camps, where African American refugees from the South gathered. Poet and wartime nurse Walt Whitman witnessed Lincoln’s “eyes, always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression,” projecting his awareness of the gravity of the crisis, and his honesty and humility.
In Lincoln’s reassurance of the people, he communicated a wider message about the purpose of the war: In a mid-19th-century world dominated by aristocracies and monarchies, only in the United States was it possible for a man of such a humble background to rise to be head of state. In his view, the insurrection of slaveholders jeopardized the survival of that experiment in democracy and social mobility.
Therefore, in his great speeches, he used familiar words and phrases from Shakespeare and the Bible to present fighting the war both as a sacred mission, to achieve God’s aims, and as a universal, ideological imperative: to save republican self-government for the world. Emancipation would further this aim: in the closing of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln hoped “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Managing the military
Lincoln’s ultimate success as a leader during the Civil War depended on his relationship with the Army, especially with its commanders.
The previous U.S. war, the Mexican War of 1846-1848, had been troubled by President James Polk’s distrust of the political ambitions of his top generals. Lincoln sought to avoid that conflict by being patient and focused in his dealings with military leaders.
Lincoln understood that he and his generals were all dealing with circumstances far beyond anything their training and experience had prepared them for. Most of the generals’ earlier careers had been fighting Native Americans. Even in the Mexican War – in which his generals had served in lower ranks – the numbers of soldiers in any one command had numbered, at most, a few thousand. At the same time Lincoln knew the Confederates also labored under the same disadvantages.
Now these commanders were suddenly responsible for maneuvering armies of over 100,000 men against an entirely different foe. In this bewildering context, Lincoln’s message to his commanders was simple: Focus on the military objective of destroying the armies of the Confederacy, and let him work out the politics.
Lincoln overruled generals who strayed into politics. In July 1862, George B. McClellan responded to his defeat in the Seven Days’ Battles outside Richmond by telling the president to cease and even reverse moves toward emancipation, stating: “Military power should not be allowed to interfere with the relations of servitude.” Lincoln’s response was twofold: He sent a terse message telling the general to go back on the offensive, and informed the Cabinet he would issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
Once the president found a general committed to his aim of defeating the Confederate armies – Ulysses S. Grant – he nominated him to head all the Union’s armies and then left the combat planning to him.
“The particulars of your plans I neither know, or seek to know,” Lincoln confessed to Grant in mid-1864, on the eve of a crucial campaign against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia that would likely decide the war – and perhaps Lincoln’s own reelection chances as well.
Even with the gravity of the crisis facing the United States, Lincoln wished to convey his absolute confidence in the man whom he had promoted to be the first lieutenant general since George Washington. “You are vigilant and self-reliant,” he assured Grant, “and pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you.”
Ultimately, Lincoln successfully enlisted political rivals, generals and the people to support the Union cause and win the Civil War. In order to accomplish this great task, the president had to simultaneously inspire, delegate and establish clear lines of authority for those around him.