Young Voters Motivated by Politics, Parkland Could Swell Turnout

 Lauren Camera
  30th-Oct-2018

A RECORD-BREAKING number of 18- and 19-year-olds are projected to vote on Nov. 6, motivated in part by the Trump administration's policies and by the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead, a new survey shows. But chances are they won't know much about the candidates on the ballot.

A new survey shows that a whopping 63 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds plan to vote in the upcoming general election, but 47 percent couldn't name a single candidate and only 21 percent could name one.

"It goes without saying that this is a high stakes election for the country, and, I would add, for education in part there is a great deal at stake," said Erik Robelen, deputy director at the Education Writers Association. "There is a lot going on in elections this year, and a lot of us have been struck by the recent surge in political activism. The big question is how that activism will be translated at the polls."

The unique survey, conducted in September by the Education Week Research Center, zeroed in on more than 1,300 18- and 19-year-olds who have never voted in a general election. Respondents were split evenly between female and male, and included teenagers from rural, suburban and urban areas.

Nearly half of the respondents were enrolled in college or were high school students. About 31 percent said they were a registered as Democrats, 25 percent as independents and 20 percent as Republicans. Notably, 35 percent said they were moderate in their political views.

The survey included questions about voting plans, level of civic engagement, sources of information and issues driving them to the ballot box.

The survey's turnout numbers are striking since midterm elections typically face lower turnout, and that's especially true for young voters. During the last midterm election in 2014, overall voter turnout was 42 percent, according to the U.S. Census, down from 46 percent in 2010. But only 20 percent of eligible voters 18- to 29-years-old cast a ballot.

Holly Yettick, director of the research center and lead author of the survey, said she's skeptical that will translate at the polls in November, especially since so few could name candidates. But she noted the increased interest and engagement in politics since the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, which spurred the March for Our Lives, where more than 1 million people flooded the National Mall to advocate for stricter gun laws.

Those who said they planned to vote cited school shootings as a top concern. In addition, 40 percent said the Parkland shooting has influenced their political engagement and 39 percent cited the Trump administration.

"It does seem like Parkland is having an influence," Yettick said. "Political engagement has increased since the school shooting, but the most said that school shootings are a top issue."

The findings are mirrored by others similarly assessing young voters.

For example, a new national poll of more than 2,200 14- to 29-years-olds finds that school shootings are the most concerning issue when they think about the future of the country and that they're likely to carry these concerns into voting booths.

The poll, directed by John Della Volpe, CEO of SocialSphere and director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, found that 67 percent said school shootings are one of country's most pressing issues, a figure that rises to 71 percent when asked of those most likely to vote.

"While talk of school shootings may have quieted in the media, this Columbine Generation – who has grown up facing the threat of school shootings every day – has been

traumatized and remains energized unlike any time since September 11th," Della Volpe said. "An older generation would not understand walking into a classroom … and thinking 'this could be a really easy room for someone to shoot up.' The same daily weight on an adults' shoulders such as bills, and taxes is what children feel about living or dying."

Last week, students gathered in Baltimore at an event hosted by the Council of the Great City Schools to discuss how they can become more engaged citizens. They named gun violence, mental health, immigration and the #MeToo movement as the most pressing issues for them.

The Education Week Research Center survey also bolstered concerns aired by Secretary of Education Betsy Devos earlier this month that not enough students are taking civics classes and that's having a negative impact on their ability to engage with one another and the world around them. Indeed, the survey found that less than half of students took a stand-along civics class in high school. Those who've never taken civics in school are less likely to plan to vote.

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