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Throughout our research and throughout this website, we frequently utilize various terms related to youth voting, civic education, and other aspects of our work. To promote clarity, we provide this list of definitions that explain what we mean by each term. We understand and appreciate that others may define some of these terms differently.

Youth Voting

Growing Voters: Our paradigm for a comprehensive strategy to increase and broaden youth voting by educating young people for participation in democracy from an early age, as opposed to merely “mobilizing” youth when they reach voting age.

Youth voter turnout: The percentage of all voting-eligible young people (whether or not they registered to vote)  who actually cast ballots in a given election. Unless otherwise stated, “youth” refers to individuals between ages 18-29.

Youth vote share: The percentage of all votes in a given election that were cast by youth. Unless otherwise stated, “youth” refers to individuals between ages 18-29.

Youth voter registration rate: The percentage of all voting-eligible young people who registered to vote in a given election, whether or not they eventually cast a ballot. Unless otherwise stated, “youth” refers to individuals between ages 18-29.

An example: A local election has 1,000 eligible voters of all ages, and 300 eligible voters ages 18-29. Two hundred of those young people register to vote: the youth registration rate is 67% (200/300). One hundred young people cast ballots in the election: the youth turnout rate is 33% (100/300). Five hundred total votes are cast in the election: the youth share is 20% (100/500).

Civic Life

Civic infrastructure: The institutions, policies, and practices that have the potential to influence whether, how, and which young people participate in civic life. Schools, media, nonprofits, voting laws, local elections offices, and more are part of a community’s civic infrastructure.

Civic Deserts: A term coined by CIRCLE, civic deserts are places where individuals perceive a lack of access to civic institutions and opportunities for engagement in civic life—akin to how “food deserts” are communities where people lack access to affordable and nutritious food.

Civic Education and Literacy

Action civics: A student-centered, project-based approach to civic education in which students learn by doing, usually by addressing an issue in their school or broader community. Students’ voices are encouraged and incorporated, they undertake collective action, and they engage in critical reflection. CIRCLE is a founding member of the Action Civics Collaborative. Learn more.

Civic literacy: The set of skills, knowledge, and competencies that individuals need in order to engage effectively in civic life. Civic literacy may include understanding the voting process and political institutions, the ability to advocate and organize, and the capacity to deliberate about public issues.

Media literacy: The ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication. Media literacy builds upon the foundation of traditional literacy and offers new forms of reading and writing in order to empower people to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators who are actively engaged in civic life. This definition is from the National Association for Media Literacy. Learn more.