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Improving Web Outreach to Young Voters

A recent CIRCLE study by W. Lance Bennett and Mike Xenos entitled "Young Voters and the Web of Politics 2004: The Youth Political Web Sphere Comes of Age" updates information provided in a similar study done in 2002.

Research by Lance Bennett and Michael Xenos introduces a "network-analysis of nonpartisan youth electoral engagement web sites." Their new working paper examines the role and growth of websites during the 2004 Presidential election. The authors find that information on voter registration, events and on-site election information have all increased since 2002. The whole array of youth-oriented election websites has also become better integrated.

For the new Bennett and Xenos Working Paper and key findings and best practices (with screenshots) from their previous work on youth voting websites, visit this page.

Take an online tour of the Key Findings & Best Practices from 2002

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News Web sites: Finding the Balance Between Fun and Function

CIRCLE Working Paper 29 News for a New Generation: Can it be Fun and Functional? shows that one way to increase youth interest in the news may be through a redesign of news Web sites. The research utilized an experimental design where subjects were assigned to view one of four different news Websites: 1) a traditional site 2) a site with a youthful design and traditional text 3) a site with traditional design and youth-oriented text and 4) a site with youthful design and youth-oriented text.

The researchers found that while young people preferred the Web sites with the youthful design and youth-oriented text, they actually learned more from the traditional news Web sites. The researchers conclude that presenting news using a modern, dynamic design format does make the source more attractive to young audiences. However, these types of features must be employed judiciously. Overloading a TV program or Web sites with too many moving elements or colorful features may not only distract consumers but may also make the information seem trivial or unreliable.

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Increasing Youth Voting Through Interactive Technology

One way to increase youth political participation and interest in politics may be through interactive technology. An exploratory study tested whether presenting campaign information in an interactive, entertaining manner increases youth political interest, efficacy, and participation.

To test this hypothesis the researchers conducted a randomized experiment where students were divided into three groups- two treatment groups and a control group. The first treatment group received an "adult" version of a CD containing extensive information about the 2002 California gubernatorial election in an e-book format. The second treatment group received a "youth" version of the CD with the same information contained in the adult version but supplemented with a variety of interactive games, contests and quizzes.

They found that young people who used the interactive, youth version of the CD voted at a higher rate, showed more interest in the campaign, and expressed greater faith in the act of voting than young people who did not receive the CD. The research was conducted by Stanto Iyengar and Simon Jackman of Stanford University. The complete findings can be found in CIRCLE Working Paper 24 Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation.

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Reaching the Young News Consumer

This CIRCLE Working Paper provides information about what kinds of news are available for young people, why producers create youth-oriented news the way they do, and what young people say they really want in news. The researchers combined textual analysis, interviews with youth news producers, and focus groups with young people to examine whether the products that are being created are responsive to young people's interests and what possibilities exist for increasing levels of news consumption among young citizens.

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Youth as E-Citizens: An online youth civic culture has taken root on the Internet, fostering Generation Y's participation in U.S. politics and community affairs, according to a report released by American University's Center for Social Media and funded by CIRCLE. The report identifies and analyzes almost 400 websites, created for and in some cases by young people that engage youth in civic activities.

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CIRCLE commissions research and collects information about the media that young people use to collect news. We have made several grants on topics connected to young people and the news media. Also see CIRCLE's Fact Sheets:

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As background, the following trend (from Higher Education Research Institute and National Election Study data) is interesting:

Interest In Public Affairs Is Down
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The CIRCLE Fact Sheet Media Use Among Young People shows that around one quarter of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25 use television, radio, or newspapers to obtain news on a daily basis. In contrast, fewer then one in ten young people use the internet for news seven days a week.

Statistics featured include:

Newspaper Readership has been Cut by More than Half
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Young People are Less Likely to Use the Web as a News Source, Compared to Older People
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Radio is the Second Most Popular News Source, After TV
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News Consumption After 9-11

According to this Pew Research Center survey, "There are no signs in the new polling that the news interests and habits of young adults ­ those under age 35 ­ have been transformed by Sept. 11, as some had expected. They continue to register lower levels of news consumption than did previous generations at a comparable stage in the life cycle. .... Only one-quarter (26%) of those under age 30 report having read a newspaper yesterday. That is less than half the number of those age 65 and over who report reading a newspaper the previous day (59%). ... In general, the decline in the amount of time people spend on the news has been most notable among the young. Those under age 25 spend roughly a half hour a day on the news, down from 51 minutes eight years ago. And the proportion of those in that age group who got no news from newspapers, television or radio on the previous day more than doubled from 14% in 1994 to 37% today. By comparison, people age 65 and older spend an average of 81 minutes on the news, and only 12% got no news on the previous day."

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Young People & Online Campaigning

CIRCLE Fact Sheet Young People and Political Campaigning provides a snapshot of the types of online campaign techniques young people use and which they say would make them more likely to vote for a candidate. Based on data from the 2004 National Youth Survey sponsored by CIRCLE and the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the Council for Excellence in Government, the Fact Sheet reports that young people tend to prefer communications that they can choose to receive rather than ones that are sent to them unsolicited. In general, the Internet does not seem to pull many otherwise disengaged youth into politics. However, it does seem to hold some promise for mobilizing partisan, ideological, and engaged young people. In particular, the most effective online campaign techniques were chat rooms, e-mails on issues, "blogs" geared to youth, and candidate events like those organized by Meetup.com.