CNN asked teens who aren't old enough to vote what issues they care most about
Their top concerns included partisanship, leadership, security and prejudice
Aditya Deo is the only senior at his New Jersey high school who won’t be 18 before Election Day, which means he’ll be the only one among his graduating class who can’t vote during one of the most unpredictable and entertaining campaigns in modern history.
He told me he’s sad he won’t be able to cast a ballot in 2016 but happy, too.
“Happy because it’s not really a great selection this year, in my opinion,” said Deo, a senior at James Caldwell High School in West Caldwell, New Jersey. “I don’t think that any of (the candidates) are that good for the future of America.”
While Deo and many other teens can’t officially weigh in this year on the future of the presidency, they have no shortage of opinions about the candidates, the issues and what they want the next president to focus on over the next four years.
To find out more of what teens are thinking, we gave more than a dozen students at James Caldwell High School a homework assignment. We asked them to finish this sentence and post their responses on social media: I’m #tooyoungtovote, but I’m not too young to _____.
Their answers speak volumes about the tone and tenor of the presidential campaign and the issues that are top of mind for these young millennials.
Ashvin Nagarajan, 16, said he’s not too young to want “a moderate president who will get bipartisan support and unite a divided country.”
I chided the sophomore: Is that even possible? “Honestly, sometimes it doesn’t seem like it,” he told me in the orchestra room at his school.
Sixteen-year-old Jenna Martinez also targeted the partisanship in our current politics. “I may be #tooyoungtovote but I know that the election is more about pushing party agendas than being flexible to benefit the nation,” the junior wrote on Twitter.
“The parties themselves have become so rigid in their belief system,” she said. “A lot of people … identify as a certain party and just blindly follow what that party dictates … rather than taking the opportunity to really educate themselves and make a decision for themselves.”
Kassie Sarkar, 17, wrote about how “our nation, so fervently indivisible, suffers from a glaring divide which only competency can mend.”
The country needs someone who can heal that divide in our country, she said. “I think that we need to have someone who is going to be able to close that disconnect between people and just bring our country together so we can be stronger and more united.”
What’s truly needed is leadership, said Thomas Salandra, 17. He may be too young to vote, but he’s not too young to “realize our country is sinking and that we desperately need a leader who is willing and able to fix it.”
President Barack Obama has not been able to do enough, he said. “I feel that over the past seven years, we’ve had a president who’s been dividing us and who’s trying, desperately he’s trying himself to fix the country, but I don’t think it’s working.”
A number of students brought up concerns about some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric during the campaign, including Donald Trump’s desire to build a wall on the southern border of the country and his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.
“I may be #tooyoungtovote but I am not too young to recognize prejudice and bigotry when it threatens our nation,” wrote Emily Freed, 17, a junior.
Megan West, also 17 and a junior, added, “Donald Trump, in particular, is very outspoken in his racism toward Mexican people and people of the Islamic faith (and) women. I find it appalling.”
In response to his classmates’ concerns about prejudice and discrimination, Mark Javornik wrote that while he may be too young to vote, he’s not too young to “realize that not every criticism of a fundamentally flawed ideology is bigotry.”
The 16-year-old junior says he considers himself to be an independent who leans more toward the left but is frustrated by the unwillingness of candidates, namely Democrats, he says, to criticize parts of the Islamic ideology that he believes may have contributed to terrorism in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, California, over the past several months.
“You are always going to have some bigotry, but people need to realize that you can criticize the ideology without being bigoted,” he said. “If you say something indiscriminately about all Muslim people, that’s obviously bigoted, but if you say something that’s flawed in the culture that they believe in and their religion, I see nothing bigoted in that. … We are never going to be able to come to a solution about Islamic terror unless we lay all of the issues down on the table and recognize them.”
Terrorism and the security of the United States are deeply personal issues for 16-year-old Ava Caravela, a sophomore whose uncle died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
She wrote that she may be too young to vote, but she’s not too young to care about the nation’s security and the way our veterans are treated. “I just don’t understand how someone could be going to work one day and then not return home to his 3-month-old child,” she said. “And I just think we need to focus more on our nation’s security because that shouldn’t have happened.”
Other issues the teens raised included climate change, the cost of college and women’s rights.
“I feel that as a woman, I should be able to make my own decisions about my own body. I shouldn’t have the government controlling what I do with my own body,” said Rachael Weisman, 17, who wrote, in part, that she’s not too young to worry about her future as a woman.
Oliver King, also 17, said he may be too young to vote, but he’s not too young to understand the issues affecting our country and make informed decisions about what he thinks is best. Too often, he said many adults, especially older generations, don’t realize this.
“It’s almost become a stereotype that if some young person holds political views, especially left-wing, it’s dismissed as being an edgy teenager, and you’re not taken seriously,” the junior said.
His message to the candidates? “We’re the people who are going to be running the country soon, so you’re going to have to start listening to us.”
If you are ages 13-17, tell us the issues you care most about. Head to @CNNHealth on Twitter, get parent consent and finish this sentence: I’m #tooyoungtovote but not too young to ______________. Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv.