In the hallway at Nashua High South, students walk by presidential candidates like Trump, Cruz, Sanders and Clinton — or at least their life-size cutouts on cardboard. The school is hosting a mock primary, and the chatter in the library is as intense as the real deal.
"Guys by alphabet, E through K, L through P, Q through Z. Get in the right alphabet. And get out your student IDs.
As students line up to get their ballots, sophomore Thalia Henningsen lingers behind. She’s like many of today’s eligible voters. Still undecided. Here's our exchange:
"So when do you think you’ll make your decision? "
"When I go to vote over there."
"Literally when you sit at the table?"
"Yeah, I feel like that’s the time for it."
Henningsen is waiting it out another 30 minutes, but others like sophomore Sophie Carrier made up their minds weeks ago after listening to the candidates in person."
"I’ve been to several of Trump’s, Cruz’s, Hillary’s, O’Malley’s and Bernie. I’ve seen them all. And of all of them I have to say I agree more with Donald Trump.
Carrier says that’s despite the influence of her mostly Democratic peers and family members.
"Though he says some very shocking things, I like his tax plan a lot. It’s not liberal. It’s not Republican. It caters to the poor and the middle class and gets rid of any loopholes and confusion."
Her classmate, sophomore Jaimie Engells leans a different way—toward Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
"I like Bernie because he’s bringing awareness of social issues that others aren’t talking about. I like the idea of free college. I’m not sure how he’s going to be able to do that."
Of the 611 votes in the school’s primary, close to half landed with Sanders. It’s clear the 73-year-old Senator from Vermont strikes a chord with this age group.
Andre Marshall is a senior who turns 18 in March.
"That’s the guy right there."
Marshall points to a poster with Sanders’ talking points on college affordability, health care and taxes.
"They all represent what I believe in. Like his gun control. He’s also super up there on gay marriage which super-represents me."
Kathy Johnson teaches A-P government and organized the school’s mock election.
"My students have been following the debates since the first day of class. They’ve signed on to different campaign teams and we’ve shared a lot of information."
On Monday, her 50 students invited the rest of the school to a candidate forum in the auditorium.
"The students who aren’t really following have different things on their minds. Their questions were very free range. One question on the NASA budget, another on GMOs, another on health issues."
But by the next day, two-thirds of the schools’ students chose not to vote.
"I think people should care about politics," 15-year-old student Jamie Engells says, "I may not be able to vote now but I will be in the future. I worry about college. I want someone that I know my future will be safe with."
And the results? Trump dominated the Republican primary at 36 percent, followed by Senator Marco Rubio at 26 percent, and Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Ted Cruz at 9 percent.
As for Democrats, Sanders posted a hearty lead at 81 percent, against his rival, Senator Hillary Clinton, with only 18 percent.
Of course, the students’ choices won’t sway the upcoming primary, but many of them will be voting soon.