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Growing Voters in Rural Communities

Supporting Youth, Creating Opportunity, and Strengthening Democracy

Starting in the spring of 2023, CIRCLE and Rural Youth Catalyst kicked off a nonpartisan learning community with anchor organizations from a diversity of rural places that provide support to young people. The goals of the learning community were to learn from one another about experiences working with youth in rural communities, wrestle with the systemic challenges in rural communities and elections, and to co-create a vision for efforts to increase civic participation, including voting, across diverse rural communities in the United States.

This brief, produced in partnership with the Rural Youth Catalyst Project, is informed largely by the Learning Community’s insights and reflections. It outlines our collective findings and offers ideas for rural organizations to begin to center youth civic engagement as an integral part of their work.

Barriers and Challenges

Based on new and previous research, and on the experiences and reflections of our learning community, we identify eight types of barriers that can prevent strong and equitable youth political participation in rural communities. These includes:

  • Some young people believe their voice doesn’t matter, and some adults think youth are apathetic
  • A vicious cycle: there are external narratives and beliefs that rural communities aren't worth supporting, and underinvestment in rural communities can lead to youth disinterest
  • Infrastructure in rural communities, including key assets like broadband, can be limited and under-resourced
  • There is increased partisanship, polarization, and extremism in some rural communities which may include voter suppression
  • Mental health is a major issue in many rural communities, especially among youth

Strategies and Opportunities

Leaders and organizations in rural communities have identified what works and what's necessary to confront the aforementioned challenges:

  • Equip adult allies with the tools they need
  • Support young leaders
  • Tell different stories about rural youth and rural communities
  • Connect civic opportunities to employment and career exploration
  • Treat community-building as civic engagement work
  • Recognize and work to heal trauma

Read the full report for new data on rural youth and more detailed insights on how stakeholders in rural communities can work together to support young people's engagement in democracy.

Our rural learning community and this research brief were made possible by generous support from Carnegie Corporation of New York.