A common lament among civic leaders is the low level of participation in public matters by young people. Indeed, voting turnout among people 18-24 is lower than other age groups. The problem, as described in a recent report, is that we’re using the wrong measures. In fact, young people are quite engaged, and want to make an even bigger difference, but it may not be in the manner that adults label as engagement.
A report issued late last year by Democracy Moves, a global youth-based nonprofit, describes many of the ways in which young people are involved in civic affairs and cites a disconnect between the political involvement approaches favored by young people and traditional indicators like voting.
This disconnect is caused largely by a lack of trust by young people in traditional forms of democracy like political parties and voting, along with a lack of trust in civic education that teaches a version of history that has often proven to be flawed and one-sided.
Yet at the same time, the report says, young people are vitally interested in public affairs, particularly issues, as opposed to candidates, and want to make a difference. The authors cite a survey that shows that, for young people, “the top three forms of ‘issue-based engagement’ are joining boycotts, signing petitions, and participating in demonstrations.” In fact, the report says, 27% of young people said that they had participated in a march or demonstration during 2020 alone.
Democracy Moves goes on to describe how civic leaders can better engage young people, starting with training for adults on how to understand and respect youth voice. Beyond this, political education that starts with hearing youth concerns about trust, activities that meet young people where they are, like on Tik Tok and in cultural venues, and creation of opportunities for real influence, rather than lip service.
- Youth and Satisfaction with Democracy- Bennet Institute for Public Policy
- Youth Power in a Pandemic- Restless Development
- Youth Voter Turnout: Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement
- National League of Cities Institute on Youth Education and Families resources on youth engagement