Young adults often get a bad rap, especially during elections. They’re often disparaged as being apathetic nonvoters who lack a sense of social responsibility. In my experience with young adults, they have strong feelings about social issues but don’t always know how to connect those feelings of what’s important to them to civic action.
Bad rap aside, the 2020 election actually saw an 11-point increase nationwide in turnout among voters aged 18-29 as compared to 2016, likely “one of the highest rates of youth electoral participation since the voting age was lowered to 18,” according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). And, perhaps most significant for the hopes of sustained civic engagement was the finding of a CIRCLE/Tisch College Post-Election Poll that “more than three quarters of young people believe that they have the power and responsibility to change the country and that this work goes beyond elections.”
In schools and colleges, our youth receive messages about the importance of being of service, having social responsibility, becoming culturally intelligent, and engaging civically. But exhortations are not enough. Young adults want to be empowered to act on their beliefs and passions, and we too often fail to give them the tools to do so.
We also need to consider the best messengers, as we know from surveys and conversations with young adults that they value authenticity and are less likely to believe what they are told by people who are in “authority.” Instead, they are more likely to believe what they learn from their peers.
What if a nationwide cadre of young adults could seek out their peers on college campuses and within the community at-large to share information that would increase the knowledge of their peers about how to access voting?
We know that some young adults don’t vote because they don’t trust what they hear from political leaders. They are disillusioned because of the increasing culture of misinformation and extreme partisanship.
What if there were a diverse group of young adults, organized as “Fellows,” who could help their peers overcome barriers to voting and become “civic influencers”?
Imagine how empowering the stories would be of how Fellows found a sense of community by helping their peers exercise the power of the vote.
Now, imagine no longer…meet the Campus Election Engagement Project’s 2021 Civic Influencers, and consider how you might get involved.