Posted by Sayre Quevedo on January 31, 2013 at 05:37pm
photo: Ken Zirkel/ BY
There are a lot of misconceptions about young voters -- they don’t know as much as older voters, they don’t care about the issues, they don’t like to vote -- but a new survey from the The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) challenges those old stereotypes.
Youth Radio’s Sayre Quevedo spoke to Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, a lead researcher behind the study looking into why young people turned out in near-record levels last November.
Youth Radio: What are some of the highlights from the data you collected from young voters in November’s election?
KG: One of them is that young people know about as much as older adults about how political systems generally work. That’s contrary to what people have said before.
The other finding that was important was that the everyday experiences that young people have growing up really matter, like family and school -- things like how often family encouraged them to vote or discussed political issues or asked about their opinions, and the same applies to schools, whether it’s through classes such as social studies or civics. When teachers really teach young people to vote, it has implications on how often they vote, how much they know, and how engaged they are as young adults.
YR: What lessons can we learn from those findings to improve turnout among young voters, moving forward?
KG: The finding about family and school has a particular implication when it comes to improving young voter turnout.
Everyday experiences at the kitchen table, and small interactions with teachers and school administrators about how important it is to participate can really raise turnout and other forms of engagement.
I think voting, in some ways, is just the tip of the iceberg. People who vote tend to also do other things. When young people receive a social studies or civic education, they build skills and the idea that it is their responsibility to participate, vote, volunteer, or go to a meeting.
Part of it is just knowing how the government works, that’s the knowledge part. But the bigger part is about the value of civic engagement. That value gets communicated through parents and teachers and a school’s climate. It gets practiced when students have opportunities like working with community members, or making decisions together, or participating in model UN. Those are opportunities that give young people the confidence and skills necessary to participate.
YR: The study says that young people who have “high-quality civic experiences” are more likely to vote. What are those exactly?
KG: High-quality civic experiences could mean discussing current events, and being encouraged to discuss political and social issues with teachers who have different opinions. It could also mean conducting research on social and political issues, doing projects in the community, and being required to keep up with politics or the government by reading things like newspapers, watching tv, or researching on the internet.
YR: Are there schools that are more or less likely to have these “high-quality” experiences?
KG: It is very much predicted by the wealth of the community and the kind of students who attend the school, in terms of racial background, immigrant status, and socioeconomic status. We call that a civic achievement gap or a civic learning gap.
Another thing about low-resource schools is that they’re often really stressed for time because of the pressure of test preparation. Teachers feel the need to teach to the test, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities for enrichment. They [classes in under-resourced schools] tend to be more about the Constitution and government structure, and not really about on-going wars or what healthcare reform would look like for them.