Toddler Democracy

Apr 12 '11

The Montreal Gazette “reports on new research”: done by my friend and McGill political scientist “Dietlind Stolle”:

bq. First, daycare kids were given clickers and asked to vote which sticker they liked best, one of an ice cream cone or a soccer ball. Because this was a democracy, and ice cream had trounced soccer, everyone got a sticker with an ice cream cone on it. But what would have happened if this wasn’t a democracy? “They voted again for a sticker, but instead they got nap time,” said Stolle. “They were puzzled, and one girl said right away, ‘I want democracy.’ Then all the others joined in. It was fantastic as an experience.”

After learning about democracy, they got to vote:

bq. In a second round, the kids had to choose between Victoria, a candidate who promised them vegetables and a healthy lifestyle, and Sarah, who promised an endless whirl of lollipops, television and playtime. The health buff squeaked to victory with 54 per cent of the vote. “Originally, everyone was convinced the kids would choose the candidate who offered lollipops,” said Stolle. But when the children were asked afterward why they chose vegetables over candy, they said they preferred to “grow up,” what Stolle sees as indirect proof that citizens can be educated to choose what’s best for them.

And finally, they got to pick real candidates:

bq. Finally, the students were shown pictures of Conservative leader Stephen Harper, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton. “I had to reduce the number of candidates because clicker voting is not so easy for kids of that age,” Stolle explains. In the pictures, each of the candidates is smiling and doing something that ought to appeal to children. “Steve” was cuddling an orange cat, “Iggy” was holding a platter of hotdogs and “Jack” was carrying a giant pumpkin. “I was certain they would chose the cat.” Three out of four would-be voters under the age of 6 chose Ignatieff, with one in four picking Harper and no votes for Layton. If the daycare set had its way, Layton wouldn’t even qualify for the next televised debate. Then a student talked to the children about each of the leader’s daycare policies. The children were shown neutral pictures of the leaders and asked to vote again. “We cannot know for sure whether the hotdog effect was lingering, or whether this was a reaction to the policies. But kids listened, and some obviously changed their vote. Ignatieff won again,” although with a slight drop in support.

I guess this is what you get when your parent is a political scientist and asked to explain what she does for a living. Very cool.