Activism pushes poor youth to vote

MICHIGAN STATE (US)— Low-income youth are more apt to vote if they are involved in political activism, according to a new study that also notes the influence of friends and family.

Previous research held poor youth tend to either vote or get involved in political activism such as peaceful protests, but generally not both. However, research published in Child Development makes a link between political activism and the ballot box.

“This study changes our understanding of youths’ political behavior,” says Matthew Diemer, associate professor of education at Michigan State University and lead researcher on the project.


It’s well known that young people from poor and working-class families tend to vote less often than affluent youth.

To explore the factors involved in getting low-income youth engaged in politics, Diemer and doctoral student Cheng-Hsien Li analyzed a sample from the national Civic and Political Health Survey, which gauges young people’s attitudes about government and sociopolitical issues. The sample included 665 surveys from low-income participants younger than 25.

The study controlled for civic and political knowledge, as young people who know more about these issues tend to be more engaged.

In some cases, individual schools or school districts may choose to steer clear of emphasizing issues such as social justice and racism in civics class, Diemer says. In other cases, civics teachers may not feel comfortable discussing potentially controversial issues with students.

If civics teachers had more autonomy and freedom to engage students in discussions about politics and social-justice issues, it would likely affect their participation in politics.

“The traditional civics class focuses on things like knowing the three branches of government. That’s still important, obviously, but I think it’s also important for students to understand what motivates people to participate in political and social issues and to have lasting commitments,” Diemer says.

“If we can have teachers spend time on this new type of civics,” he adds, “then maybe we can get a generation of younger people who are more engaged politically.”

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