Bias in the Presidential Election

Table Talk: Family Conversations About Current Events
  • For Parents, Families, and Caregivers
Election Process Illustration
iStockphoto

Topic Summary

Elec­tion years usu­ally present rich oppor­tu­ni­ties for parents and edu­ca­tors to talk with young people about civics, the elec­toral process, how government works and politics. This presidential election year, how­ever, has left many feel­ing hesitant about how to raise the topic and specif­i­cally, how to approach the negative and biased dis­course that has characterized much of the cur­rent debate.

This presidential election campaign, more so than previous campaigns, has seen an unfortunate amount of hate-filled lan­guage, proposals based on biased assumptions and candidates bullying each other. Specifically, we have seen stereo­typ­ing of many groups includ­ing women and immi­grants, threats to ban Mus­lims from liv­ing in the coun­try and pro­nounce­ments that Islam “hates” Amer­ica, mock­ing of dis­abled peo­ple, and polit­i­cal can­di­dates attack­ing one another based on their phys­i­cal appear­ance. There have been at least ten campaign events in which violence has taken place.

And quite naturally, this polit­i­cal dem­a­goguery has had an impact on young peo­ple. Mus­lim chil­dren are express­ing fear and sad­ness, some even ask­ing their par­ents if they are going to have to leave the coun­try after the elec­tion. At an Indi­ana high school bas­ket­ball game, students erupted into scream­ing and insults; the pre­dom­i­nately white team yelled at the oppos­ing play­ers and fans, who were a pre­dom­i­nately Latino team, chant­ing “no com­prende,” “speak Eng­lish” and “build the wall” (refer­ring to the pro­posal that a wall be built on the Mex­i­can bor­der to keep immi­grants out).  Latino and other immi­grant chil­dren worry that they may be deported when there is a new pres­i­dent in the White House.

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently surveyed approximately 2,000 teachers, finding that this election campaign is having “a profoundly negative impact on schoolchildren across the country.” Specifically:

  • More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students—mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
  • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
  • More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • More than 40% are hesitant to teach about the election.

Regardless of political party, the current tone and discourse is counter to what many parents aspire to teach their kids about respect, diversity, bias, language, stereotyping and civil discourse. While parents and teachers may feel cautious about discussing the topic, it is important to talk about these issues so that young people, who see adults (including politicians) as role models, do not subconsciously integrate this thinking into their own. It can be, instead, a teachable moment. 

Age

10 and up

Questions to Start the Conversation

  • Have your friends and classmates been talking about the election and the candidates? How so?
  • How do you feel about what you have been seeing and hearing in the presidential election campaign?
  • Are there issues and topics you have heard from candidates that you agree with? Disagree with?
  • In what ways do you think the tone of the presidential campaign has been positive and inclusive? How do you think it has been negative and biased?
  • How do you think the language and tone of this election are impacting young people’s ideas about diversity?

Questions to Dig Deeper

(See the Additional Resources section for articles and information that address these questions.)

  • Have you noticed whether friends or classmates are mimicking some of what is being said from the campaign? How does that make you feel?
  • When you hear friends and classmates make biased or stereotypical statements that are coming from the election, how can you address it with them?
  • Why do you think some of the candidates are saying what they are saying with the tone they are using?
  • If you could meet each of the candidates, what would you say to them?

Ideas for Taking Action

Ask: What can we do to help?  What actions might make a difference? 

  • Learn more about the issues and be a critical consumer of the presidential campaign by watching debates, reading articles, studying the media portrayal of candidates, watching campaign advertisements and reading candidates’ speeches.
  • If you want to support a particular candidate or issue, get involved in activism efforts around that issue or candidate.
  • Share what you know and learn about the campaign with others by organizing an educational forum in school and/or sharing information on social media.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Find out what children know and use the summary to expand their knowledge. Ask what else they want to know and investigate together to learn more.
  • When discussing the topic, ask children open ended questions that deepen the conversation. Do not judge their responses and listen thoughtfully.
  • Think together about a child-level action they can take; this can be something they do on their own or something you do together or as a family.

Additional Resources