Children Aware of Voter Prejudice in US

AFP, October 5, 2008

Children are aware white males have monopolized the US presidency, and most attribute the trend to racial prejudice, according to a study published Sunday.

Calling into question the idea children live in a color- and gender-blind world, researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, reveal “most elementary-school-aged children are aware there has been no female, African-American, or Hispanic President.”

In addition, “many of the children attribute the lack of representation to discrimination,” said Rebecca Bigler, professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, and lead author of the study, published in the journal Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.

The research team interviewed 205 children aged five to ten in 2006, a year before Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama began their historic bids for the White House. Clinton lost to Obama in the primary fight for the Democratic nomination.

The study asked the children, from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, about their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about the US presidency, and specifically about similarities between presidents and the absence of female, African-American and Hispanic presidents.

A third of the children said the white male monopoly was due to “racial and gender bias,” and another third believed members of the excluded groups “lacked the skills to hold the position,” according to the study.

One in four participants told researchers they thought it was “illegal for women and minorities to hold the office of president.”

The study found children were generally optimistic about the possibility that they could be president.

Girls who attributed the lack of female presidents to discrimination, however, were more likely to believe they could not become president.

“The US presidency is a high profile case of racial and gender exclusion,” Bigler said in a statement.

“And because this topic is not typically explained to children, they appear to create their own explanations for the exclusion,” she said.

The 2008 presidential election between Republican candidate John Mcain and Obama, who is black, has the potential to significantly alter children’s view, said Bigler.

“If Obama loses his bid for the presidency, there may be little change in children’s attitudes, but it could fuel their perception that American voters are racially prejudiced,” she said.

“In contrast, if Obama wins children may believe that exclusionary laws and racial prejudice no longer shape the outcomes of the presidential elections.”

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