Youth and US Elections: About Way More than Just the Horserace


By Peter Levine and Abby Kiesa

A lasting impact of electoral engagement can deepen the civic life of communities. New research suggests that being involved with others on solutions to social problems contributes to young people to flourishing and achieving their potential.


As Election Day 2016 drew closer, news and conversations about the election focused even more narrowly than usual on the horserace and party politics, rather than, for instance, effective solutions to public problems and public deliberation about issues. Listening to the news, you may have thought that the only reason to care about youth electoral participation was to know what candidates they would support. But don’t let that fool or distract you − youth civic participation is about more than just who wins elections.

An election is a good opportunity to think about how young people are engaged in our public life generally. Participation in elections is one example of a civic engagement activity which includes actions that people take to address public problems. Other activities include news engagement, discussion of public issues and policy advocacy. Decades of research has shown that people who engage have built long-term habits and skills.¹ Engagement early in life fuels later engagement, thus creating the foundation for strong democratic participation. Additionally, emerging research shows that civic engagement isn’t only a civic good but also brings other individual and community-level benefits such as skill development, wellbeing and community and economic resilience.


Youth Electoral Engagement

 Elections are one way that communities address public problems. Elections create opportunities for community forums and town hall events with candidates, information about referenda and ballot initiatives, canvassing in communities, and of course, ultimately voting.

There are an enormous number of ways that young people can engage in activities related to an election. These activities provide the above development opportunities, as well as a potential gateway to new ways of engaging:

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