powering youth civic engagement with data

(Providence, RI) Two of our marquee data projects have made the news this week. In The New York Times (March 3), Farah Stockman writes:

Efforts to bolster student turnout have been aided by a new national study that analyzes voting behavior on campuses across the country.

For the first time, schools can get detailed data on how many of their students cast a ballot, either locally or absentee, thanks to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, put out by researchers at Tufts University.

The study aims to assess how well schools are doing at preparing students to be active citizens in a democracy, said Nancy Thomas, director of the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University, who oversees the study.

The study, which matches enrollment records with voting records, began in 2013 with a modest expectation of getting a few hundred colleges to participate. Today, it includes voting data from more than nine million students on 1,100 campuses in all 50 states. Identifying information has been removed from the data to protect students’ privacy.

The data has unearthed a series of fascinating insights about the 2016 elections: Social science majors had higher turnout than math and science majors (53 percent versus 44 percent). Female students had higher turnout than males (52 percent versus 44 percent). Asian students turned out at a far lower rate than their peers (31 percent versus 53 percent for white students, 50 percent for black students and 46 percent for Hispanic students).

“This initiative will hopefully motivate educators to teach students across disciplines why they should not take democracy for granted,” Dr. Thomas said.

And Josh Kurtz writes in Scientific American (March 5):

Millennial voters are poised to drive the U.S. debate on climate change—and they could have an oversized impact on 10 competitive congressional elections this year, two new studies suggest. …

The second study, also released late last week by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, showed the 10 congressional districts where millennial voters could potentially make the greatest difference in November. Eight of the 10 districts are in the Midwest or Plains states. …

“Millennial voters have generally favored Democrats in midterms, and that trend continues,” the Pew report says. “But, comparing early preferences this year with surveys conducted in previous midterm years, Millennial registered voters support the Democrat by a wider margin than in the past.”

That’s where the Tufts study comes in.

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement created a Youth Electoral Significance Index, using demographics, historical voting patterns and projected competitiveness to produce a ranking of the congressional districts where young people (ages 18-29) have the highest potential for impact on the 2018 elections.

The study identified 10 swing districts with large populations of young people, including college campuses.


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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.