Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
Our friends at The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning Engagement (CIRCLE) have released a new report that looks at the ways that young voters aged 18-29 engage in the American political system. Entitled “Understanding a Diverse Generation: Youth Civic Engagement in the United States,” the report clarifies what the “youth vote” actually means, and reveals just how diverse a voting bloc it is. The study compared civic engagement behaviors among young adults between 2008 and 2010, and divided them into different descriptive groups–or “clusters”–based on their activity and engagement. As the study illustrates,
Consider the Broadly Engaged and Civically Alienated clusters [representing 19% and 16.1%, respectively, of young Americans in 2008]. Almost everyone in the Broadly Engaged cluster voted and many also volunteered, worked with youth in their communities, attended public meetings or worked with neighbors to address community problems. Most had at least some college education and 70.6% were White. Meanwhile, the Civically Alienated group did not vote, volunteer, belong to any groups or otherwise participate in local civil society. A majority held a high school diploma or less, only ten percent were college graduates and a majority were people of color.
The study shows the dangers of broadly categorizing–in Peter Levine’s words–“the most racially, ethnically and culturally diverse generation in American history” as “the youth vote.” But, for those concerned about strengthening civic engagement, the report also reinforces that there are some social indicators–like education, for instance–that are consistently correlated with increased engagement. If we want more civically engaged youth, a focus on civic education in schools is a must.
One area of hope for this is the recently proposed H.R. 3464, known as the “Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Learning Act of 2011.” Introduced by Representatives Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Mike Honda of California, the bill would provide a competitive grant program for civic education programs–especially for underserved schools. Additionally, the act would provide increased data from the NAEP civics and history tests to allow each state to learn more about how its students fare in their civic education. To learn more about the bill, the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools has an informative endorsement of the bill, and you can follow the bill’s progress at OpenCongress.