Friday, October 19th, 2012
In the Huffington Post, Alex Wirth, part of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, discusses the results of a new poll by the Project that finds that youth voter (defined as voters ages 18-29) turnout this November could be the lowest on record.
Our poll of over 2,000 young people from across the United States found that 59 percent of young people ages 18-29 are likely to vote in the upcoming election. Our polling from 2010 and 2008 found a gap between the likelihood of voting and actual turnout of 19 and 25 points, respectively.
If these point gaps, between youth likely to vote and those who actually voted in 2010 and 2008, are applied to our most recent findings, the optimistic estimate is that 40 percent of young people will vote on November 6. The most conservative estimate is 34 percent. This election might very possibly have a lower youth voter turnout than the 39.6 percent of young people who turned out in 1996, the year with the lowest youth turnout on record.
The turnout projected follows a decline in engagement we have seen in both parties since 2008. In this election cycle, the number of enthusiastic Obama supporters excited, likely to volunteer, and closely following the election are below the number of both Obama and McCain’s enthusiastic supporters in 2008. This isn’t a partisan narrative. We see a similar trend in Republican enthusiasm from 2008 to 2012.
Part of the reason for this possible decline in voter turnout, Wirth argues, has to do with the fact that many young people are not politically engaged with their communities in non-election seasons–and this, at least in part, might be because of the lack of civic education opportunities afforded them.
Elected officials of both parties can’t simply look to young people to turn out in election years, they must engage young people during the other three years by providing civic education opportunities in Washington, in the community, and in the classroom. This will increase the number of young people politically engaged and active and thus the number of young people voting.
Yet, the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress Civic Assessment found that over two thirds of students were below proficient in civics: a problem neither Democrats nor Republicans have addressed. In fact, we have seen cuts to civic engagement programs targeted at youth.
Congress eliminated all 37 million dollars of funding for civic education and all 119 million dollars of history education funding. The federal government’s entire support for history and civics was zeroed out. Included in these cuts were the “We The People” program which provided over 30 million students with an introduction to the constitution and a competition which challenged their understanding of the founding principles of our democracy.
Additionally, Congress ended the Learn and Serve America program, cutting 39.5 million dollars for that funded service-learning, civic education, and community-engagement programs in schools.
Continue reading Wirth’s call for civic education here.