18by Vote Combats Lack of Youth Engagement Opportunities
While historically youth voter turnout has lagged behind national averages, that has begun to shift as Gen Z comes of voting age. Since 2018 youth voter turnout has seen major increases, demonstrating the new generation’s dedication to civic engagement.
Young Americans are harnessing their political power now more than ever; yet, opportunities for youth to engage in political action remain sparse and often inaccessible.
In recent years we have witnessed young people partaking in political action across the nation. From protesting gun violence and the climate crisis to running for office, young people are engaging in a variety of political practices. Youth activists often have to overcome obstacles and create their own opportunities, breaking into a system which typically keeps young people on the sidelines. The biggest barrier facing young people looking to engage in politics is the lack of access to meaningful opportunities for political action and leadership training.
According to research done by the Center for Information & Research On Civic Learning and Engagement, “Youth are interested in getting involved and understand they have the power to effect change, but they sometimes lack the information, support, and explicit opportunities to do so.”
Not only do young people lack the opportunities to engage in political action but they are often left out of outreach efforts from political parties, campaigns and candidates. In civic deserts, where political outreach is already low, youth are far less likely to be contacted by campaigns or candidates, making outreach to young people in these communities even more critical. The lack of meaningful engagement opportunities for young people in the political arena is a major deficiency as young people have proven their commitment to democracy.
The narrative surrounding lagging youth voter registration and turnout numbers often concludes that younger generations are simply apathetic: those researching and engaging with young people on the ground see this is not the truth. Only 40% of youth said they feel “well-qualified” to participate in politics; notably, 10% more white youth self-identified as well-qualified than young people of color. Despite this, a majority of youth have an interest in being politically involved. What this disparity indicates is that both political and educational institutions must do more to empower and educate young people, especially those in civic deserts.
18by Vote’s programming provides youth with meaningful, compensated leadership opportunities. From our 2022 Civic Leadership Program to our upcoming Exploring Youth Engagement Research Fellowship, we are providing young people with the resources to execute their ideas and the mentorship to empower youth to feel more than qualified to participate in politics. As we look through applicants for our programs what we look for above all is genuine passion and willingness to learn. This approach actively combats the gatekeeping of political opportunities that leaves youth feeling unqualified to participate.
As youth continue to increasingly harness their power at the ballot box, it is critical that opportunities are available for young people to engage in every aspect of the political process. Allowing young people to be more than voters but also organizers, candidates, and advocates is critical to sustaining passion and expanding who considers themselves qualified to partake in politics. 18by Vote’s programming provides a framework for how organizations and institutions can harness the drive Gen Z has to be politically involved.