CIRCLE Growing Voters
Something big needs to change in how we prepare all young people to vote, lead, and engage in the country’s evolving multiracial democracy. We believe it's possible, urgent, and necessary.
We call it CIRCLE Growing Voters.
The CIRCLE Growing Voters report introduces and details a paradigm-shifting framework for developing the next generation of voters. Based on rigorous, comprehensive research, including findings from an exclusive survey of teens, it serves as a guide for every institution and community to play a role in this work. The report includes actionable recommendations for educators, organizers, policymakers, journalists, funders, families, young leaders, and more. Only by working together can we close voting gaps, expand the electorate, and support a more equitable and representative American democracy.
Explore its pages, and download the executive summary and the full version below.
Sign Up to Learn More and Grow Voters
We're excited to connect with you and share more information about CIRCLE Growing Voters learning series. Join this email list to receive information about all the events and opportunities described above, and share it with any interested friends and colleagues!
On June 14 we held a virtual event to release the report and introduce the CIRCLE Growing Voters framework. We presented an overview of the research, featured a panel of young voters; and heard from organizers, policymakers, and experts in various fields about how they're working to put into practice the principles of CIRCLE Growing Voters.
If you missed it, watch full video of the event below!
A Role for Every Community and Institution
The CIRCLE Growing Voters report includes specific research and recommendations for multiple fields and stakeholders who must play a role in the task of supporting youth electoral learning and engagement. That includes K-12 schools, community organizations, parents and families, election officials, policymakers—and of course young leaders themselves.
Explore our brief summaries with major findings and calls to action for:
Schools are a critical setting for learning about elections and voting. School-based opportunities are especially important for youth who lack such opportunities in other areas, like through their personal networks or experiences with media. And as institutions that reach the vast majority of teens, K-12 schools have a critical role to play in reducing disparities and inequities in civic learning and engagement.
Our recommendations for K-12 schools and educators include:
- Don’t silo civic learning: teach about elections across the curriculum
- Let students register (and pre-register) to vote in school
- Embrace media creation as a pedagogical tool
- Expose students to extracurricular opportunities
- Embrace values of equitable democracy in the classroom
- Fund and facilitate youth journalism
- Embrace youth leadership and voice
Panel of Educators Discuss How to Grow Voters
In August we hosted an event titled Engaging Students for an Informed Democracy: The Role of K-12 Schools. A panel of K-12 leaders and experts shared their thoughts on how schools and educators can provide better and more equitable civic education that prepare all young people for elections and democracy.
Partisan organizations and political campaigns are the largest stakeholders in voter engagement, often spending billions of dollars on outreach each election cycle. Their potential to engage young people is massive, but currently these organizations are structured and incentivized to reach those they consider the likeliest voters, often excluding young people who have just turned 18, youth who are not in college, and other groups that they consider less likely to turn out. These organizations must shift away from a focus on mobilizing those who have already voted before to a focus on developing young voters and broadening the electorate.
Our recommendations for political campaigns include:
- Hire young people to develop and implement strategies to reach other youth
- Consider what youth-centered policies can and should look like
- Engage with existing local grassroots organizations year-round
- Reach beyond college campuses
- Use digital tools, but don’t forget the power of personal
Every community has groups and organizations that can work to register and engage voters. These may include youth-led groups or student clubs, issue advocacy organizations, local museums, or health centers that hold voter registration drives. Their electoral outreach is especially relevant to young people who care about local issues and who may have more limited access to other pathways to participation, but the potential of these organizations to engage young voters has not been maximized.
Our recommendations for community organizations include:
- Engage in nonpartisan political outreach and engagement
- Leverage your relationships with young people
- Diversify your outreach and start young
- Build community
Election processes are set up by people who, by definition, have a lot of experience with voting and elections. Unless they intentionally make efforts to
consider and include the diverse needs and perspectives of those—like new voters—who don’t have that knowledge and experience, these processes can
unintentionally rely on misconceptions about what potential voters do or don’t know and create barriers to participation. Election administrators must adopt a CIRCLE Growing Voters mindset to effectively and equitably reach newly eligible voters—especially those from communities historically underrepresented in politics and elections
Our recommendations for election officials include:
- Talk with, listen to, and partner with young people
- Directly ask youth what they need to be ready to vote
- Engage young people before they reach 18
- Make voting data accessible
- Hire young people
Foundations, philanthropists, philanthropic advisors, and other organizations that support civic engagement and democracy are critical to the transformations required to grow voters. The scale and depth of the changes envisioned by this new paradigm require both substantial resources and shifts in how these organizations decide what to support in order to generate lifelong electoral participation for generations to come.
Our recommendations for funders include:
- Listen to and consult diverse young leaders
- Support efforts to/that pay young people
- Fund youth-led projects in a variety of sectors
- Ditch election cycles in favor of year-round or multi-cycle funding
- Develop a CIRCLE Growing Voters ecosystem in your community.
The media is a major institution in public and political life, and can therefore serve as part of the infrastructure to support CIRCLE Growing Voters. However, how young people and teens access and engage with news media is still highly inequitable across different groups and communities of youth. Systemic changes in media institutions are required to address those inequities and provide adequate support for youth.
Our recommendations for the media include:
- Embrace local journalism’s civic responsibility
- Strive to better understand your youth audience—or lack thereof
- Create opportunities for youth journalism and input
- Use explanatory journalism
- Include youth voices in reporting on issues that affect them
Expert Insights on the Media and Young Voters
In July, we hosted an event titled Youth, News, and the Midterms: How the Media Can Grow Voters in 2022 and Beyond. A panel of media leaders and experts shared their thoughts on how journalists and media organizations can better engage youth as audiences and co-creators.
The attitudes and habits of the people surrounding youth influence their likelihood to participate in civic life, both generally and when it comes to elections. Parental engagement in particular has a strong influence on how young people think about civic participation. There’s often a reinforcing cycle: young people whose parents have access to political engagement, time to be engaged, and are themselves involved in elections or other forms of political participation “pass on” that culture of engagement to their children.
Our recommendations for parents and families include:
- Demonstrate voter engagement every chance you get
- Help your teens pre-register/register to vote
- Support teens in your family serving as poll workers
- Encourage political discussion and engagement
- Support civic education in schools
- Embrace the role of social media and help youth navigate it
Public policy puts building blocks in place to make sure there’s equitable access to electoral learning and engagement. For example, if voting
laws make it much easier for those who have voted before to participate in elections at the expense of those who haven’t, that may perpetuate or increase inequality. Legislation at the local, state, and federal levels can expand young people’s access to elections, especially newly eligible voters who need to register for the first time.
Our recommendations for policymakers include:
- Treat young people as your constituents
- Hire (and pay!) young people
- Enact and implement voter pre-registration
- Implement policies equitably and effectively
- Lower the voting age to 16 in local elections
Young leaders can use their own networks to help institutions create systems of support for young voters. Young people have expertise in how to effectively reach, communicate with, and recruit other young people, and can harness this knowledge to show institutions their blind spots in outreach and contact, and can help institutions maximize their support for young voters.
Our recommendations for young leaders include:
- Evaluate your community’s support of young voters
- Be a leader in community institutions
- Get involved with issues that matter to you
- Push your teachers and school to grow voters
- Host a voter registration drive at school or in your community
- Bring local politicians to your school or youth organization
Start Taking Action
The CIRCLE Growing Voters report's Community Mapping Tool can serve as a first step for any leader or institution to explore how they can put the framework into action. The tool will help you assess your strengths, map your community’s assets and challenges, and begin to envision what a CIRCLE Growing Voters ecosystem would look like in your work.
CIRCLE Growing Voters Learning Series
Throughout the summer and fall of 2022, we'll be hosting several opportunities to dive deeper into the CIRCLE Growing Voters framework. Starting with the launch of the CIRCLE Growing Voters report on June 14, a series of online events and asynchronous activities will walk participants through the research on youth voting and engagement, and what various fields, institutions, and communities can do to grow voters and foster more equitable civic development.
The most recent event in our learning series was focused on educators: "Engaging Students for an Informed Democracy: The Role of K-12 Schools." You can watch full video below.