The 2018 midterm election witnessed a dramatic increase in young voter turnout—by some measures, a 25-year high. Recent surveys suggest that the enthusiasm of the 2018 midterms may translate into even more young voters heading to the polls in 2020. This marks the reversal of a decades-long trend in declining participation among young voters that has been a constant since the 1970s.
During the 1960s, pressure from the student activist movement boosted support for lowering the voting age in the United States from 21 to 18. Then, in 1971, Congress ratified the twenty-sixth amendment to the US Constitution, which granted citizens 18 years of age the right to vote. Since then, young voters have turned out at rates lower than older age groups. Even the recent uptick in young voter turnout, from around 20 percent in the 2014 midterms to 31 percent in 2018, represents the lowest turnout of any age group.
The stories in this collection illustrate strategies that are actually working to mobilize young people; read on to learn what you can do on your campus and in your community to help renew democracy!
Click here for more stories in the Solutions Story Tracker on Democracy
- Define “political efficacy.” Discuss what actions beyond voting can affect a citizen’s sense of political efficacy. In particular, what are some ways, other than voting, that young people can participate in the political process?
- Identify a time, either in your personal experience or in past news coverage, when young people were accused of "slacktivism" (ineffectual passive support for a cause, a.k.a. armchair activism) Discuss when the use of social media and mobile technology can be effective, compared to efforts limited to social media that fail to engage people politically
- Identify some of the main reasons that young people in the US don’t vote. What have states like Colorado done to help eliminate barriers to voting? Have they been successful?
- After reading the piece by Milan Polk on efforts to fight voter suppression, identify and discuss the strategy students used to ensure that they could exercise their right to vote. What barrier stood in their way? What actions did they take?
- Is your campus working to increase voter turnout among young people? Evaluate the programs on your campus, comparing and contrasting efforts to some of the successful campaigns discussed in this collection. If your campus does not have an effective voter registration program—create one!
- Journalism is a collaborative practice: reporters are writing for their community, but they also depend on community members as sources for information. Indeed, the very purpose of journalism, according to the American Press Institute, is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. With that in mind, SJN wants to help connect news readers and journalists. Beside the name of the journalist on any of our story pages or the results page of the Solutions Story Tracker, you’ll find a Twitter icon that will link you directly to the journalists profile. Tweet at them with questions or compliments about their piece - you might be surprised by how much writers want to engage with their audiences! Don’t forget to tag us too (@soljourno) and use the hashtag #journalistintheclassroom if you are reading as part of an academic assignment.
- Political efficacy refers to a citizen’s perception of their influence, either through voting or other political activity, on government policies. Political efficacy also relates to a citizens’ faith in the trustworthiness of their government and political process. “Internal efficacy” refers to an individual’s belief that they can understand and participate in politics; “external efficacy” refers to the likelihood or belief that they government will respond to the efforts of civil society. Individuals can amplify their political impact by working with political campaigns to canvass, register other voters, and engage in issue advocacy. They can also engage in civil protests. By participating in civil society, a voter can amplify the impact they have as an individual. This is in direct contrast to a sense of political alienation or powerlessness.
- “Slacktivism” or “armchair activism” is a derogatory term referring to passive support for a cause, typically demonstrated through social media posts. This typically refers to “feel-good” campaigns that have little or no measurable impact on a political or social cause. However, in recent years, successful mobilization of social media and mobile technology has had a significant measurable impact, for instance in the area of voter registration and turnout among young people—as demonstrated in the stories in this collection. Therefore, just because an initiative is tech-based, it does not necessarily mean it qualifies as “slacktivism.”
- Young people in the United States face several challenges when it comes to increasing their political participation. Many young people feel disconnected from candidates, who appear out of touch with younger voters. Young voters also change residence more frequently, creating issues in voter registration. Policies may differ state-to-state, making registration more challenging and complex. Many students argue that they are too busy to keep up with voter registration policies and local political campaigns in areas they do not plan to settle. In some cases, young voters haven’t been encouraged enough. As Tina Rosenberg argues, those who have some contact with peers or organizations that encourage them to participate in elections are more likely to vote. To combat some of these issues, several states have taken measures to make registering and voting easier for young people. In particular, Colorado has introduced election reforms that promote mail-in ballots and allow voters to register on election day.
- According to the article, Katherine West of Furman University in South Carolina faced residency barriers when trying to vote by mail in the 2018 midterm elections. In response, West and other students filed a lawsuit against the Greenville County Board of Voter Registration and Elections. They won. Sometimes voter registration campaigns and social media awareness campaigns are simply not enough. Students should know that they have power to take legal action to secure their right to vote. By organizing, students can increase their political efficacy. Have students research other ways that young people have leveraged the legal system to exercise their rights.
- Educators should encourage students to look for ways to become involved in campus actions to increase voter participation. Visit the Campus Compact website for more resources!
- Answers will vary—for more on creating collections, click here. For more on Success Factors, click here.