In Virginia middle schools, bullying and teasing rates were higher in voting districts that voted for President Donald Trump than in districts that voted for Hillary Clinton, according The Hechinger Report's coverage of an unpublished study.
In Republican districts, bullying was 18% higher than in Democratic districts in 2017, the findings show. Also in 2017, teasing about race or ethnicity was 9% higher in GOP districts compared to Democratic districts. In years before the 2016 presidential election, however, there wasn’t a difference between bullying rates in Republican and Democratic areas.
The results were based on a survey completed by more than 150,000 7th and 8th graders in 400 schools. The researchers presented early findings in April at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting, the article notes. Jonathan Cohen, former president of the National School Climate Center, said at the forum, “This study is confirming that Trump is actually having an effect on America’s children.”
Since President Trump launched his presidential bid, there’s been a dispute over the validity of what’s known as the “Trump effect,” which Psychology Today defines as “an increase in bullying in schools caused by the rhetoric used by Donald Trump during his campaign.”
A 2016 Southern Poverty Law Center report found that Trump’s presidential campaign caused an “alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom.” More than a third of teachers who responded to a survey said they saw a jump in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment among their students, the report says. A post-election Human Rights Campaign Survey of Youth found that 70% of respondents witnessed some kind of bullying during Trump’s campaign or after he won. But a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released this year found conflicting results: Bullying and cyberbullying reports nationwide have slightly declined since 2015.
The varied results depend on the information, context and participants involved in a particular study. Cohen said the Virginia school bullying findings were based on a rigorous study, and The Hechinger Report notes that it accounted for demographic differences that could affect the conclusions.
The next question is, why would school bullying happen more often in places where a majority of adults voted for Trump instead of Clinton? Cohen said it’s “Trump in partnership with the local community. If we have a large segment of the parent community who are connected to racist, anti-immigrant sentiment, then Trump is giving permission to these people to give voice to that sentiment,” according to the article. For instance, Trump’s rhetoric has given a stronger voice to groups like white supremacists, The New York Times notes.
Whether or not there is a “Trump effect” educators have increased efforts since the election to teach topics like civil discourse — including discussions on empathy and how to help those in need — added more professional development opportunities and expanded social-emotional learning programs to help students recognize and stop bullying incidents from happening. Some say school climate is even more important than test scores, which are indirectly affected by bullying by increasing absenteeism. While educators can’t necessarily change a student’s opinion, they can teach them how to talk about differing viewpoints in a respectful way.