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CIRCLE and Snapchat: Partners for Youth Media Creation and Voter Engagement

Our research is informing the digital giant's efforts to use its platform for youth voter education and registration.

In recent election cycles, companies have made increasingly stronger commitments to promoting informed youth voting using their digital media platforms, storefronts, and apps. Together, they have achieved extraordinary scale and an impressive capacity to reach youth —especially those who are not typically reached by traditional campaign outreach. Our research shows that digital media, especially, have become a major source of election information for youth, and several digital media platforms have made a commitment to using their platforms for youth voter engagement.

One particularly strong leader in this field has been Snapchat, and CIRCLE has been pleased to inform the company’s voter engagement efforts and initiatives. Most recently, our Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg provided data analysis and feedback for Snap’s white paper: “Don’t Scroll Past Gen-Z: How to Harness this Generation’s Political Impact.” The report focuses solely on Gen Z, defined in our 2020 poll as young people ages 18-23.

Some of the data we provided Snap for the report comes from brand new analyses of our 2020 youth pre-election survey. It includes:

  • 23 million young people, ages 18-23 are eligible to vote in the upcoming presidential election
  • 82% of Gen Z-ers say the COVID-19 pandemic has made them realize how their political leaders’ decisions impact our everyday lives, and 85% believe young people have the power to change things in this country
  • Only 21% of Gen Z-ers have ever voted by mail at least once, and though 65% have seen information regarding voting by mail, 35%—millions of youth—haven’t seen any information at all. More than 27% of 18- to 21-year-olds said they wouldn’t know where to find information about mail-in voting.
  • Over 60% of 18- to 23-year-olds say they feel more represented when they create media and content about politics or social issues.

The last two points are especially critical. Digital platforms like Snapchat can connect young people, not just to each other, but to authoritative and actionable information about deadlines, election processes, and other logistical aspects of electoral participation. It can also put young people one click away from online voter registration tools, official election websites, and other resources that youth may not know how to find, or have time to look for by themselves. That’s valuable in any election cycle but especially vital in this one, with the COVID-19 pandemic having limited many usual electoral outreach and education efforts, and vote-by-mail (which youth are largely unfamiliar with) will play a major role in the election.

In addition, Snapchat is all about young people creating media: photos, videos, memes, and more. Youth use these to communicate with each other, but also to tell stories, make statements, advocate for issues, and be in political conversation with each other. This political self-expression can contribute to the formation of a civic identity in which participating in politics is not just something young people do, but part of who they are. Our research shows that this type of media creation can help young people feel more civically empowered, and we believe can serve as steps on pathways to broader civic and political engagement. That can be especially critical for youth of color and other young people who have historically not been part of mainstream narratives about youth participation; on social media, these young people can create their own narratives and contribute to a broader diversity of youth voices.

The connection between youth media creation and electoral engagement has been a major area of focus for CIRCLE in 2020. We launched and continue to lead the Rep Us Project, which explores the role of media as a civic influencer, as a way to promote diverse representation, and as a tool for Growing Voters.

As Snap’s report states: “We’ve seen how, despite their determination and drive, Gen Z-ers are often left out of the conversations that matter most. Whether due to lack of access to education around voting, seemingly disinterested candidates and campaigns, hard-to-find information, or civically disengaged parents, the odds are stacked against these young people. But we’ve seen that Gen Z is simply unwilling to accept this as their reality.” When they work to fulfill their massive potential, digital platforms can be a powerful tool for youth to young people to transform that reality