For Young People, Getting Involved Means Staying Involved
It seems that every election cycle brings with it a new discussion of how to rectify one of the most unfortunate facts about voting in America: Young people just don’t vote very often.
And when it comes to low-income youth, well, they really don’t vote at all.
For a long time, it was conventional wisdom that youth, especially low-income youth, either involved themselves in political activities such as rallies or protests, or they voted – but generally they didn’t do both. That was the explanation for why we see a lot of young people at rallies and protests but not a whole lot at the voting booth on Election Day.
Our understanding is now changing, thanks to a recent study conducted at Michigan State University. The report, titled “Critical Consciousness Development and Political Participation Among Marginalized Youth,” provides good news for those seeking answers to the questions surrounding low-income youth – and youth overall – casting a ballot.
The report says that the more involved in political activism low-income youth are, the more likely they will be to vote. Furthermore, parents, friends and teachers can have a strong influence on the political efficacy of a young person. The more aware low-income youth are of their political surroundings – be it in the form of social injustices, racism or any other topic they may be passionate about – the more likely they will be to take it upon themselves to make a difference. And that difference may come in the form of voting.
Much was made about the outpouring of young voters in November 2008, helping to catapult then Sen. Barack Obama to the White House. Nearly 15 million “first-time” voters came out to the polls in 2008 and more than half of them were between 18-24. A report done by Pew on “the millennial generation” found that voters between 18-29 voted for Obama by more than two to one.
Keeping low-income youth politically involved could be aided by a greater freedom and a broadening of topics in civics, social studies and government classes. Often, teachers and school districts shy away from certain topics because they may be uncomfortable delving into potentially controversial material. But what they don’t realize is that by doing this, they are not protecting students but contributing to their disenfranchisement.
The study shows it’s precisely these types of topics that, when discussed openly, increase politically efficacy and drive more young people to vote.
Matthew Diemer, associate professor of education at MSU, led research on this study and says, “If we can have teachers spend time on this new type of civics, then maybe we can get a generation of younger people who are more engaged politically.”
Generating greater numbers of young voters has been a thorn in the side of campaigns and political scientists alike for many years. With the help of this new study, we at least have a pathway towards a solution: Get involved.