|A shot of LHS 2010 mock election rally participants
The nation can crow all it wants about the candidates Public Policy Polling and CNN/Opinion Research are picking to win the upcoming election. But here in northern Michigan, there’s only one public opinion meter people pay attention to: the Leland High School Mock Election.
On October 30, more than 1,000 area high school students, area candidates and political junkies are expected to crowd into Leland High School for the event, which has become such a popular tradition in the region – and around the state – Michigan Government Television now broadcasts the event and has used it as a model for a statewide Michigan Mock Election project that’s launching this year.
“On the national political spectrum, we’re a blip,” explains government teacher Ed Wodek, who has organized the event every two years since 1990. “This is a tiny high school doing this, but we always draw a crowd. The whole school is transformed into an election rally, covered in red, white and blue.”
So what happens exactly? The culmination of weeks of preparation by Wodek’s 50 junior and senior students, the process works like this: At the start of the school year, students are divided into Democrats and Republicans. Wodek assigns each to one of a number of committees, including sign making, decorations, booth construction, speech preparation and video commercials.
“We’ve had situations where our students’ commercials were better than the candidate’s ads,” he says. (Click here and here to watch two examples.)
Wodek’s students research candidates and give speeches in support of them. Then ballots are cast by Leland High School students, and results are announced.
The real-life candidates are welcome to attend the rally and – as word of the small-town school’s big-impact mock election has spread – the event has drawn some big names in Michigan politics, including Gov. John Engler, Sen. Carl Levin, Rep. Dave Camp and Rep. Bart Stupak. State Reps Michelle McManus and Jason Allen were regulars at recent mock elections.
Politicos who choose to attend have to play nice. “The candidates have to be positive,” says Wodek. “They have to talk about what they will do – nothing negative about their opponent.”
So, the big question: How well do the mock election results compare with real election results?
About 50-50, says Wodek.
For example, in the mock votes: Rick Devos topped Jennifer Granholm 53 percent to 47 percent for governor in 2006. Two years later, the Obama/Biden ticket demolished McCain/Palin by a 72 percent to 28 percent margin. In 2010, Virgil Bernero edged Rick Snyder for governor, 51 percent to 48 percent. That same year, long-time incumbent Dave Camp lost to challenger Jerry Campbell, 56 percent to 42 percent in the 4th District Congressional race.
“In the early years, it was spot-on for the real election because the students were sort of a sounding board for the way their parents voted,” says Wodek. “Not any more … My goal is to make them think on their own politically. I want them to look at the candidates and be able to come up with a point for both sides. If they can do that, I’ve done my job as a teacher.”
Leland High School’s mock election event – listed on the school calendar as Ed’s Big Political Rally – happens Tuesday, October 30 from 9 a.m. to noon. Call 231-256-9857 for more information.