Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge
CIRCLE has formed a distinguished, nonpartisan, scholarly commission that will investigate rigorous data on young Americans’ civic knowledge and voting and then issue recommendations for how to improve both. The commission has been formed in response to controversies about recent voting laws (for instance, the new state photo ID laws) as well as debates about civic education in schools and colleges. It will, however, take a broader view, considering a wide range of potential influences on political knowledge and engagement. The commission begins with no position on the existing or proposed policies; its deliberations will be heavily influenced by new data collected during and immediately after the 2012 election.
Why this Commission? Why Now?
Youth political engagement requires attention. Proponents were relieved this November when youth turnout remained at the same level as in 2008, the famous Year of the Young Voter. In fact, about half of eligible young Americans have voted in each of the last three presidential years, leading to talk of a “new normal.” Fifty percent turnout does represent a significant improvement over the low rates seen in 1996 and 2000, but it is hardly acceptable. And the new normal is also the “old normal”: in seven of the last ten presidential elections, going all the way back to 1976, youth turnout has come within just two points of 50%. At no point in the last two decades has youth turnout surpassed 52%. The half of young Americans who vote at lower rates are consistently poorer and less educated than their peers who do vote. It is time to break through the 52% barrier and engage and inform most young people.
In addition, states differ dramatically in youth turnout, with some frequently seeing twice the voting rates of others. States affect their own young citizens’ political engagement with a wide range of voting laws and by enacting policies for civic education in public schools. Along with the states, the federal government, local governments, and major institutions such as universities make decisions that affect young people’s knowledge and attitudes related to politics and their voting.
What Will the Commission Focus On
To investigate the full range of policy influences on informed youth voting, CIRCLE has organized and will staff a scholarly and nonpartisan commission. The commission is funded by the Spencer Foundation. Additional grants from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Youth Engagement Fund, the W.T. Grant Foundation, and the Chicago Community Trust are supporting three national surveys, analysis of state policies, analysis of federal data, and stakeholder interviews that will inform the Commission’s deliberations and report.
The confirmed members of the Commission are among the most distinguished scholarly experts on related topics, representing diverse disciplines and institutions. In alphabetical order, the commissioners are:
- Lisa García Bedolla, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy, Society and Culture, University of California Berkeley School of Education
- David Campbell, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy
- Cathy Cohen, David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago
- Constance Flanagan, Professor, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Trey Grayson, Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard and former Secretary of State of Kentucky
- Eitan Hersh, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University
- Diana Hess, Senior Vice President, the Spencer Foundation, and Professor of Education, University of Wisconsin.
- Joseph Kahne, Professor of Education at Mills College and Chair of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics
- Alex Keyssar, Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School
- Michael McDevitt, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Colorado at Boulder
- Richard G. Niemi, Don Alonzo Watson Professor of Political Science, University of Rochester
- Eric Plutzer, Professor of Political Science, Penn State University
- Debra Satz, Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society, and Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University
- Ismail K. White, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Ohio State University
- The effects of state policies on informed youth voting
- The 2012 voting experience and photo ID laws
- State civic education policies
- Insights from key stakeholders