How Can We Get Young People Interested in Voting?

by Buddy

Visitor Question: Our little suburb has been plagued with some terrible elected city council people for several years now. Every time there is an election a handful of good candidates, many of whom are relative newcomers to our area, run against these entrenched incumbents. And every time they lose by a fairly small margin.

Our younger residents, and the adult children of our long-time residents, feel so alienated from the prevailing good old boy network. It's no wonder either, because the people in power don't want to do anything different to help people of color or young people get ahead. They just want to protect their power. I saw that the younger adults in our region don't turn out to vote at a very high rate at all, and then when I ask around, people who work in elections in our suburbs think this is true here too.

So my question comes down to how can we inspire young people to get engaged in local civic life?

Editors Reply: As you seem to know, this is a nearly universal problem. Nationally in the U.S. younger adults vote less frequently than seniors.

What is a newer phenomenon is the contagion of the notion that regardless of whether we vote or not, or participate otherwise or not, nothing we do will make a difference. Things will always remain the same, and nothing in my community will improve, so why even bother?

This attitude is an understandable conclusion in the most neglected of urban neighborhoods, as well as the "down and out" places in the hollows of rural America. What is alarming is how much this idea has spread to young people in general. It seems to be part of a general nihilistic philosophy embraced by many younger folks.

Let's concentrate on how you might get young people involved in your community's planning and decision-making, because we think that once they feel engaged, as in really interested and genuinely convinced that their action might make a difference, they will find their way to the voting booth.

It starts with younger children. Check out our article on kids and city planning for some workable ideas.

Plan some projects around town that are likely to appeal to younger people. Remember that young adults tend toward one-time volunteer options, so find some social media influencers who can promote your local efforts to clean up a park or create a walking trail. (See our page on how to clean up a neighborhood park for tips.)

See the other community development ideas and community improvement project ideas on this website for concepts that will yield some quick and visible progress in the community, and then make sure to involve young people prominently and visibly in the planning and execution of those projects.

Make sure there is some decent night life, but in your efforts to entice business people to locate or open a bar, restaurant, or venue in your area, bring along young adult representatives.

Obviously you can start with your high schools, colleges, universities, and trade schools. Find a social studies or political science teacher who can help you meet students who are especially interested in public policy, and then give that student the resources needed to produce posters and flyers to recruit other students. Support that student's social media efforts every step of the way, and remember to ask your own sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews to join in the movement.

Young people are attracted to other young people, so look for every opportunity to put young adults in leadership roles.

Above and beyond that, though, just like any citizen group, you have to address their concerns if you expect this group to vote. Otherwise, cynicism will carry the day, and your neighborhood will continue to suffer under staid leadership.

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