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Our research on young people’s engagement in elections and civic life constantly reminds us how diverse youth aretheir demographics, their lived realities, their perspectives, their motivations. There is no single characteristic or experience that applies to all youth; therefore, there's no single strategy that is effective in encouraging civic participation among all young people. The exception is K-12 education, and we know that teaching students about elections and voting is vital for a range of reasons:

  • According to a CIRCLE study, youth who are taught about elections and voting are 40% more likely to vote when they turn 18. Explicit instruction on voter registration and voting procedures clarifies for students when and how to vote, and doing so within a school setting offers students the space to ask questions and receive support from others before trying to engage in these activities independently. Equally important are activities and curricula (focused on media literacy, Action Civics, and civil dialogue) which encourage and develop students’ capacities to be informed voters and active civic participants.

  • Standard voter outreach and mobilization efforts focus on individuals with a voting record or on youth on college campuses, and therefore overlook the millions of young people who have turned 18 since the last election and are newly eligible to vote and the one-third of youth (ages 18-29) who have no college experience. Because nearly all youth receive a K-12 education, schools offer the most efficient and effective pathway to equitably preparing all young people for voting and civic engagement. 

  • Diversifying our electorate and increasing the civic participation of young people requires adopting a new paradigm for Growing Voters from an early age. This includes providing a comprehensive K-12 civics education that incorporates teaching about elections and voting, as well as designing and implementing policies and statutes that expand access to youth voter registration and electoral engagement, thereby minimizing barriers to youth participation in elections and supporting diverse local youth leadership and voices.

The Teaching for Democracy Alliance

K-12 teachers and administrators need resources, training, and support in order to embed teaching about elections and voting into their classrooms and schools in a way that meets students where they are, and builds from there. With this need in mind, since 2016, CIRCLE has helped coordinate the Teaching for Democracy Alliance (TFDA), a coalition of national nonpartisan organizations committed to working together to support schools in these efforts. The Alliance creates and aggregates high quality resources for K-12 teachers and administrators to prepare students for democratic participation. It also builds energy for this work within and beyond the education community through support of school and district leaders, conference presentations, and press outreach.

The Alliance’s website offers resources for K-12 teachers and administrators, including:

In addition to CIRCLE, TFDA’s members include American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Civic Engagement Research Group (CERG), Close Up, Facing History and Ourselves, Generation Citizen, iCivics, the League of Women Voters, Mikva Challenge, the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), PBS NewsHour Extra, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.