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Children and Presidents, Redux

- November 28, 2007

To follow up on Lee’s post, there is actually some interesting evidence that childrens’ attitudes toward the President have become much less idealized.

First, in 2000, Amy Carter and Ryan Teten interviewed about 450 children (4th-8th grade) in the Nashville area (article here, gated). Second, in 2004, I did a convenience sample of about 240 students aged 8-13, most of which lived in the Austin area (where I was teaching), with others living elsewhere in Texas and one group in Louisiana. (I had students who worked with kids administer the survey; other students sent the survey to a friend or relative who was a teacher, and he or she administered and sent back the surveys.) Taken together, we have data from both the Clinton and Bush administrations to compare with Greenstein’s 1958 data from the Eisenhower administration.

Each of these three studies asked children, “What kind of job has the president been doing?” The responses in 2000 and 2004 contrast sharply with Greenstein’s findings.

table on kids.PNG

Both the 2000 and 2004 data show a much less idealized vision of the president. Neither Bush nor Clinton fares nearly as well as Eisenhower, a fact that seems to have little to do with presidential approval at the time. (According to the Roper Archive, at the time of these respective surveys, Eisenhower was in the 50s, Clinton in the 60s, and Bush just under 50.)

In the 2004 survey, I also included Greenstein’s open-ended question about “what kinds of things you think the president does.” Some answers reflected naïveté, as Greenstein also found:

– I think he do very important things. I think he does hard things too.
– He takes care of our country and jobs
– I think he has to make the laws and he does a lot of work.
– He is doing some papers.
– he talke to the people en the castle [This was my favorite.]

Some answers were astonishing in their anti-Bush fervor (which we could attribute to Austin’s liberal proclivities, perhaps?):
– He bombs Iraq for oil. He tries to take away women’s and gay rights. He uses the ‘trickle down’ system in the economy (he believes if you give more tax cuts to wealthy people, they will start more business for poorer people).
– He invaded Iraq for “weapons of mass destructions.” [quotes in the original] He was only interested in oil, while we (American soldiers) were attacking soldiers were order to guard the oil site instead of the manufacturing plants for weapons of mass destruction, and during this election, he has made himself look great which he is not. He says he doesn’t regret anything that he has done but he has killed innocent soldiers by snooping in other countries business and he has made the poor poorer by making the rich richer.

One waggish child, perhaps channeling this movie, wrote this about President Bush: “Rolls wads of paper & chunks them into the trashcan while watching T.V. & approving everything on his/her desk while drinking his juice in the South Central.”

I do not know what to make of “his/her.”