The announcement of Donald Trump’s candidacy for president in 2015 had inconsistent relationships with bias-based bullying among California youth, according to new research published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. In the two school years following the announcement, there was an increase in bullying based on gender but a decrease in bullying based on sexual orientation or disability.
Bullying, defined as repeated aggressive behavior with the intention to cause harm and an imbalance of power, has been associated with negative physical, mental, and academic outcomes. Bias-based bullying refers to bullying based on an individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, and it has emerged as a growing concern.
Inspired by anecdotal reports, the new study aimed to examine bias-based bullying among school-aged youth. The researchers were motivated to study Trump’s impact due to the media’s portrayal of his language and actions, and the influence of the presidency on cultural norms. Their research aimed to contribute to the understanding of the complex interplay between political events, cultural dynamics, and bullying behaviors in society.
The researchers conducted the study using secondary data from the California Healthy Kids Survey, which is an anonymous survey administered to middle and high school students. The survey collects information on various aspects of students’ experiences, including bullying. The data from the survey were linked with county-level 2016 presidential election returns to assess the political affiliation of the counties where the schools were located.
The study included a sample of 2,817,487 middle and high school students who completed the survey between the 2013 and 2019 school years. The researchers examined five specific types of bias-based bullying: race/ethnicity/national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. Students were asked how many times they were harassed or bullied based on these factors in the last 12 months.
The researchers used logistic regression, a statistical method, to compare the differences in the odds of bias-based bullying before and after Trump announced his candidacy for president. They controlled for demographic variables (such as sex and race/ethnicity), education variables (such as grade level and grades received in school), socioeconomic status (such as parent education level), and school connectedness, which measures a student’s sense of belonging in school.
Overall, about a quarter of the students reported experiencing some form of bias-based bullying. The most common type of bias-based bullying was based on race/ethnicity/national origin, followed by sexual orientation, gender, religion, and disability. The prevalence of bias-based bullying slightly decreased during the study period, but none of the specific types of bias-based bullying strongly correlated with each other.
When analyzing the impact of the 2016 presidential election, the researchers found inconsistent associations between the election and the odds of bias-based bullying. For any bias-based bullying, there were no significant differences in the odds of bullying before or after the election announcement.
However, there were some variations when examining specific types of bias-based bullying. Gender-based bullying showed an increase in odds during the first two years after the election announcement but a decrease in the following two years. On the other hand, sexual orientation and disability-based bullying had decreases in the odds during the first two years but increases in the following two years.
Additionally, the political affiliation of the communities where schools were located seemed to contribute to bullying outcomes. Counties with a higher proportion of Trump voters had slightly higher odds of bias-based bullying.
The study’s findings suggest that the 2016 presidential election had an inconsistent impact on bias-based bullying among school-aged youth. The prevalence of bias-based bullying slightly decreased over the study period, but the election announcement did not show consistent effects across all types of bias-based bullying. These findings highlight the complex nature of bullying and the need for further research to better understand the factors that contribute to bullying behaviors and victimization.
In particular, the study’s findings highlight the need for more detailed data on bias-based bullying in statewide and national surveillance systems to track trends over time, similar to general bullying data, the researchers said.
“The need for additional data is especially relevant for understanding the influence of the political and social context on bullying trends and behaviors,” the researchers said. “As Huang and Cornell (2019) point out, it is unclear whether reports of increased bullying in the wake of the 2016 presidential election represent an actual increase in bullying prevalence or a shift in the form of bullying to one that is more readily recognized, given Trump’s behavior during his candidacy and presidency. Additional data would help to shed light on whether there are actual changes in frequency or shifts in reporting of bullying, allowing for better targeting of interventions.”
The study, “Bias-Based Bullying in California Schools: The Impact of the 2016 Election Cycle“, was authored by Monique Gill and Diana Govier.