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  Workshop 2: Electoral Politics  
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The Student Voices Project

The Student Voices Project encourages the civic engagement of young people by bringing the study of a local political campaign into the classroom. Working with school systems throughout the country, the project helps high school students study the issues and candidates in their city's mayoral campaign. Each class formulates a Youth Issues Agenda, reflecting the issues that are of most concern to students and their communities. Students use online news sources to follow the campaign and to research where the candidates stand on issues. Through classroom visits and candidate forums, students raise their concerns directly to candidates and hear what can be done about them. Finally, students communicate their concerns to the general public by making their voices heard in the local news media.

The project is an initiative of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, with funding from the Annenberg Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. In 2000-2001, the Student Voices Project was implemented in Los Angeles and San Antonio. In 2001-2002, students in Detroit, New York, Newark, Tulsa, and Seattle participated in Student Voices.

Why Student Voices?
Increasingly, young people in America are choosing not to vote in elections. In 1972, when the 26th Amendment to the Constitution extended the right to vote to 18 year olds, 50 percent of Americans aged 18-24 voted in the presidential election. By 1996, however, the percentage of 18-24 year olds who voted in the presidential election fell to only 32 percent. In contrast, 73 percent of people between 65 and 74 reported voting in that election. (U.S. Government, Census Bureau, Report on Voting and Registration in the 1996 Election)

U.S. Census Report on Voting and Registration in November 1996

Age group
18-19
20-24
28-29
30-34
35-44
45-54
55-64
65-74
75-84
85 and over
% of citizens registered
46.7
56.4
61.3
65.5
72.2
76.4
79.8
81.0
79.5
70.1
% of citizens who voted
32.4
36.9
44.9
51.1
59.6
66.0
71.4
72.6
67.9
52.2

Why Are Young People Not Voting?
A 1999 survey by the National Association of Secretaries of State on American Youth Attitudes on Politics, Citizenship, Government, and Voting examined how young people feel about politics and civic involvement. The study, which noted that young people today are active volunteers, looked closely at why they are not voting when they turn 18. The findings included:

  • Many youth are not learning about the political process from their families, with a large proportion never speaking to their parents about politics. Discussion with family members is one of the ways that young people in the past have learned about the importance of voting.
  • Young people typically do not learn in school how to register and how to vote. Many do not know where to go to register to vote and feel as if they wouldn’t know what to do if they walked into a voting booth.
  • Young people do not feel that they have enough good information about candidates, parties, and issues. Many felt that an ill-informed vote is worse than not voting.
  • Young people see few connections between the role of government and the concerns they currently face in their own lives. They want concrete reasons to vote and they want to know how voting will affect their lives.
  • Negative political advertising and news coverage that focuses on scandal have encouraged young people to be skeptical and distrustful of politics and politicians.
  • Youth feel as if today’s politicians are not talking to them or speaking to their concerns.

One clear finding of the study was that young people do not feel as if their voices are being heard. Two-thirds of those surveyed agree with the statement, “Our generation has an important voice but no one seems to hear it.”

The Student Voices Project was created to help young people become more informed about public issues and political candidates, to demystify the election process and the mechanics of voting, and to help youth make their voices heard to politicians, the media, and the general public. Between the years 2000 and 2005, the project will work with high school classes in 22 cities, helping students learn about the candidates and issues involved in their city’s campaign for mayor.

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