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High school students correctly predicted 2016 election, try to do the same in 2020

Posted at 3:19 PM, Nov 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-03 15:19:13-05

While political pundits pontificate about Tuesday’s election results, thousands of high school students around the country will have been hard at work forecasting their own.

In a March Madness-style round-robin challenge, students pick states they think will go Democrat or Republican, filling out their own electoral map and entering it among thousands of others in the FANschool Challenge.

“It’s something fun. It’s something different that the kids can kind of get a little competitive about,” said high school government and economics teacher Gerald Huesken. “[It’s] friendly academic competition.”

Huesken helped start the challenge along with two other colleagues four years ago as the country was gearing up for the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Several of his students correctly predicted the Trump victory despite polls reflecting a different outcome.

Back then, he says, it was only something for his class to do as they take what they learn in their civics and apply it to real-life situations, but now, it has exploded into an online format used by hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers across the country, says Huesken.

“Right now, we’re looking at the different data from NBC, ABC, stuff like that [to guide our knowledge],” said Huesken. “It’s saying it’s looking pretty good for Joe Biden, but we thought that going into 2016.”

Students get to draft states in a fantasy football format. They then learn about what is important to their voters, research news articles and polls, and then predict what they think will happen in 2020 based on what they find, putting together their minds and entering the bracket in a nationwide challenge for prizes.

“I have both Florida and Ohio going Republican this year and giving Trump some votes,” said Mason, a junior in Huesken’s class who did not want to use his last name. “I also have Michigan going to Biden, leading him to a pretty comfortable victory.”

Mason says the challenge has taught him how different regions of the United States approach different issues and how voting patterns change among different demographics.

“If you asked me in 20 words or less why do you teach this course, it’s really because I feel like high school students, whether or not they’re voters, look at our political system and our political institutions and feel like they have no agency,” said Chris Stewart, a social studies teacher at a high school in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Stewart helped start the challenge alongside Huesken and used it to helped formulate his fantasy politics course that he only offers during election years as a way to make the electoral process more relatable to many students who are not able to engage in the political process because they are not old enough to vote.