CIRCLE’s Growing Voters framework

I am digging into CIRCLE’s monumental Growing Voters report, which is subtitled, “Building Institutions and Community Ecosystems for Equitable Election Participation.” It is really the first original and comprehensive framework that CIRCLE has produced in its 21-year history. It builds on work that we conducted while I worked there, but all credit is due to the team that has succeeded me.

Youth political turnout is far too low and unequal. Often, people who care (at all) about this situation advocate reforms in election laws, get-out-the-vote drives during election season (usually only in competitive districts), or catchy policy proposals like forgiving college debt. The evidence strongly suggests that none of these approaches will come anywhere close to solving the problem, and they are all too transactional and tactical. They assume that young people can be induced, by tinkering with the incentives, to act as political leaders wish.

CIRCLE has uncovered evidence that many things do work: from laws that allow people to pre-register before age 16, to state civics tests, to school climates that make students feel like valued members of the community, to explanatory journalism. There are no silver bullets, and we need a shift in the overall attitude–a shift from electoral mobilization to “growing voters.” Youth themselves have an essential role to play in accomplishing this shift, which must involve many different kinds of institutions.

The full report is detailed and careful and deserves to be read in full.

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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.