Youth Volunteering on Political Campaigns
Voting is just one of many ways that young people influence elections, and there are many ways that youth can participate in the political process even before they reach voting age. The 2020 Democratic presidential primaries are once again highlighting a particularly impactful way: young people work on and volunteer for campaigns. In CIRCLE’s 2018 post-election poll, we found that there was strong interest from youth in political leadership and participation. This year, before the Iowa caucuses, we found that 44% of youth in Iowa knew another young person working on a campaign. And while more than 2 million youth have volunteered for campaigns in the past two years, many more are interested in doing so. This is a huge potential resource for both parties in a presidential election year.
In our 2018 poll, 7% of 18- to 24-years-olds said they had volunteered for a political campaign. Combined with those who said they had not volunteered but might do so if given the opportunity, we find that nearly one-third of youth are potential or actual volunteers—that translates to roughly 10 million youth. Moreover, that accounts solely for those interested in volunteering on a political campaign and doesn’t include all of the other ways young people may be inclined to get involved.
This finding—which, again, highlights just one of many forms of participation—stands in stark contrast to the portrayal of young people as politically apathetic—and it’s only one form of participation. This depiction of youth, sometimes advanced in news coverage, can conflated young people’s vocal (and understandable) skepticism and cynicism about politics with a lack of interest in participation. However, our research has found that instead of disengaging, this generation of young people has transformed that cynicism into motivation to get involved. As young people have become leaders in movements like the March for Our Lives and the Sunrise Movement, their peers have become inspired by seeing that their actions can make a difference.
Given that close to 10 million youth had at least some interest in volunteering, but only a subset of them did so, the issue may be one of access and opportunity. Previous CIRCLE research has pointed to the power of the ask in getting youth to vote, which held true for the 2018 midterms. Personal outreach to youth is critical. When young people are contacted personally and asked to vote, it sends a message that their voices are valued and wanted. A similar idea applies to volunteering for a campaign: it appears that many more youth would do so if explicitly asked to and given the opportunity to do so through targeted outreach measures. In 2020, these efforts could help campaigns gain hundreds of thousands of new volunteers.
Increasing the opportunities for youth to be involved as volunteers on political campaigns can increase those campaigns’ outreach capabilities, allowing them to reach more voters—and perhaps especially more young voters who may be receptive to listening to their peers. But it will also increase young people’s political skills, knowledge, and motivation by providing opportunities for young people to learn that their voices and action are welcome and valued in our political system.
Authors: Cait Gardiner, Abby Kiesa, Alberto Medina