Understanding Youth Attitudes and Beliefs
Youth and Gun Violence Prevention
Typology of a Rising Generation
How Young Women Shape Elections
The civic and political attitudes, preferences, and beliefs of young people in America can trend in a certain direction, and throughout much of modern American history they have been vastly different than those of older adults. Youth are also incredibly diverse; not just in terms of their identities, but also of their experiences, opinions, values, goals, visions for the country, and approaches to engagement in civic life. In order to effectively encourage diverse young people to vote or to participate in their communities—and to strengthen the civic infrastructure that will create opportunities for them to do so—we must strive to understand young people’s attitudes and beliefs.
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Youth Are Interested in Political Action, but Lack Support and Opportunities
Themes and Areas of Research
Contrary to some popular beliefs, young people are not uniformly activist, left-leaning, Democratic voters. Far from it. While youth have primarily supported Democrats in recent elections—and that support widened considerably in 2018—historically youth vote choice has been far more evenly split between both major parties. Young people hold a variety of views that shape their civic and electoral engagement in ways that do not always neatly fit neatly into political parties and ideological labels.
Recently, young people have been far more united on one front: their concern for American democracy and for the values of the American people. But youth are also united in their hope for the future, and our research has found that, far from discouraging participation, their worries over the direction of the country is spurring them to action at the ballot box and beyond.
Read more about:
- Youth attitudes and support for the last two presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
- Youth views on the state of American democracy
- Young people’s ambivalent relationship with political parties
- A typology of young people’s political ideologies and sense of civic efficacy
- How young people decide who to vote for
Young people care deeply about a variety of issues: from climate change, to economic inequality, to racial and gender equality. In fact, our research has shown that, more than any other age group, youth report that they care more about a candidate for public office’s position on issues, experiences,and qualifications to serve than their perceived personal or leadership qualities. That said, young people’s positions on issues, which issues they prioritize, and which leaders they trust to effectively address those issues can vary widely among different groups and communities of youth.
The 2018 election provided a powerful example of how central issue awareness and activism can be to young people’s voting and broader participation in civic life. The gun violence prevention movement launched and led by youth in the wake of the Parkland school shooting dominated the election cycle. Our research found that a majority of young people said they supported the movement, and those who supported it were more likely to vote and to help or encourage others to vote.
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One of the most important youth beliefs to track, understand, and ultimately enhance is young people’s belief in themselves and in their ability to effect meaningful social change. Youth are rarely politically apathetic, but they are often rightfully skeptical of a political system that seems broken, unresponsive to their concerns, and unwelcoming to their potential participation. That skepticism has not entirely disappeared, but our research shows that it has combined with an increasing sense that they have both the ability and the responsibility to engage and create change.
However, that sense of civic empowerment is far from universal: a significant percentage of young people still feel disengaged or disempowered. It is also not evenly distributed: some youth, particularly those from historically marginalized communities continue to feel alienated from civic life and are often systematically shut out of participatory processes; therefore, their voices and views remain underrepresented. This a challenge to our democratic institutions, which must transform in order to allow all youth to harness their willingness and potential to help change society.
Read more about:
How a new generation is finding its political voice
A typology of young people’s political ideologies and sense of civic efficacy
Young people’s views of civic and political engagement after the 2016 election
To learn more about how young people are turning their beliefs into action, explore our research on Youth Activism and Community Change.
Lived experiences associated with aspects of one’s identity—such as gender, race/ethnicity, class, and disability status—can shape young people’s political views and approach to civic engagement. This is especially the case given our democratic systems and institutions’ historical marginalization of certain communities. Therefore, some young people have an experience of civic life that embraces their participation, while others constantly see barriers.
These diverse experiences, the way leaders do or don’t speak to different types of youth, and the lack of opportunities for youth from certain communities—especially those that have been historically marginalized or disadvantaged—can all make for different political views, as well as differences in willingness or ability to participate in civic life.
These differences manifest in various important ways. White youth have historically voted at higher rates than Black and, especially, Latino and Asian youth—and they often make drastically different choices at the ballot box. Likewise, young women have historically voted at higher rates than young men, and in recent elections vote choice has increasingly diverged by gender. Race and gender can also shape whether youth have hope in the political system, in their own ability to effect change, and other beliefs that profound influence their civic engagement or lack thereof.
Read more about:
- Race and gender differences in young people’s views of their political voice
- The impact of youth of color in key 2018 races
- Young women and the 2016 election
- Race, gender, and education and the 2016 election
- The political engagement trends of African American. Latino, and Asian American Youth (2014)
- Civic engagement and political leadership among young women
- Youth, immigration, and the 2012 election
- Youth support for President Obama by gender and race