The Educated Citizen

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Millennial Must-Read: More civics, Better Citizenship

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Authored by IOP Director Trey Grayson

Recently, I spent the day in Chicago meeting with my colleagues on the Commission on Youth Voting & Civic Knowledge. Because of a snowstorm, I ended up staying Chicago until almost midnight, but the flight delays did allow me to enjoy some Chicago-style pizza from Giordano’s.

Our commission is coordinated by CIRCLE, a nonpartisan, independent, academic research center at Tufts University that studies young people in politics and presents detailed data on young voters in all 50 states. The IOP has partnered with CIRCLE in the past on a Civic Health Index for Massachusetts, and more recently the Millennial Civic Health Index

The goal of the Commission is to release a report in late spring with recommendations on how to strengthen both the civic knowledge and participation of young Americans. 

This issue is really important to me. In fact, it was a major part of my platform when I ran for Secretary of State in Kentucky in 2003. Two reports our office produced are available here and here.

I have maintained this commitment here at the Institute of Politics, which offers a number of programs aimed at promoting civic education and knowledge including: our “National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement,” a consortium of twenty-three colleges and universities committed to creating more politically and civically engaged campuses; a CIVICS program bringing Harvard undergraduates into area middle schools to expand on students’ understanding of American government; and a unique, nationwide polling project measuring the civic and political engagement of America’s Millennial generation. 

Yesterday, we decided upon the broad contours of the report, which we will now begin drafting.

Many of our conclusions – but not all – will be based upon a comprehensive post-election survey that provides great insights about the civic knowledge, voting behavior, and beliefs of young Americans under the age of 30.

As I mentioned, we haven’t even started drafting the report.  I can, however, share a few interesting tidbits from the post-election survey

One, a clear relationship exists between respondents’ high school civics education experiences and their knowledge of campaign issues and political participation in the 2012 presidential election. Young people who recalled high-quality civic education experiences in school were more likely to vote, to form political opinions, to know campaign issues, and to know general facts about our political system.

However, taking high school civics had little or no relationship with party registration or young adults’ choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Parents can rest easy that their children won’t be turned to the opposite party, just by taking a civics class in high school.

Finally, these young voters tended to be more informed than is commonly believed. Over three-quarters of respondents correctly answered factual questions about candidate positions on campaign issues that they had identified as important. And they scored similarly to adults in their civic knowledge when looking at contemporaneous surveys of voters over the age of 30.

I’ll continue to provide updates on the IOP Blog as the Commission’s work continues.


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