This Slate article by Jamelle Bouie offers an interesting empirical account of why youth vote at lower levels and also an interesting claim about the legitimacy of voting when uninformed about issues. Two factors are offered for explaining low turnout among youth: instability experienced by many under 25 at that stage of life and a lack of confidence that they are adequately informed. The first factor is emphasized most in the article, and, as a cure, Bouie proposed reforms aimed at simplifying voter registration and voting. The second factor is addressed in passing, and leads to this provocative normative statement:
There are cultural factors too. Several … interviewees felt too uninformed to responsibly cast a ballot, which suggests a discourse that puts too high a premium on arbitrary political knowledge and not enough on knowing oneself as a political actor with a legitimate claim on the state. Perhaps more young people would vote if they knew knowledge of issues was less important than knowledge of their own interests.’
I could see having a discussion in class about this and then having students watch this video in which Jason Brennan argues against compulsory voting (by defending the normative claim that uninformed citizens should not vote):
One potential problem with this is that Brennan makes some empirically dubious claims about the effects of voter ignorance on policy and that voters do not (or should not) vote in part based on self-interest. It’d be best to go into the discussion armed with some political science research that corrects some of Brennan’s errors. (I’ll provide some of that when I get time.)
If, in a unit on Political Participation, you like discussing the potential for government-led reform efforts to increase democratic participation, you could discuss recent experiences in Brazil as demonstrating both the promise and shortcomings of such efforts.
In case you have a student tell you — as one just did to me — that they are interested in running for office, here’s an incredibly useful list of training opportunities for new political candidates. I’m going to replace an old link in Ch. 2 with this and add it to the Participation Chapter, but I’ll also just send students to this directly whenever they express interest in running for office. If anyone knows of additional good resources for this, please share.
Here is non-partisan issue we can encourage our students to take action on. Congress is currently not fulfilling its constitutional duty to prepare for the 2020 census.
BTW, this blog, which is based on Cynthia and Sanford Levinson’s book “Fault Lines in the Constitution,” is a wonderful resource for anyone teaching the Constitution. Sanford wrote a book entitled Our Undemocratic Constitution, and is a leading proponent of the idea that much of our political dysfunction has its roots in design flaws in the Constitution. Cynthia is an education scholar focused on civic education. The books (Our Undemocratic Constitution and Fault Lines) and this blog encourage us to teach the Constitution from a critical perspective that counteracts the tendency for blind veneration in our political culture. Their approach is a stimulating way to get students thinking about the Constitution; the impact of institutional design; and the possibilities for, and obstacles to, exercising popular sovereignty.
This video is great for a variety of purposes, including political participation, civil liberties (1st and 2nd Amendments), and theories of legislative representation. It’s especially great that it’s here in Georgia.
I could imagine — at least with a smaller class — showing this video at the beginning of class when covering political participation, and spending the class period working together to take action on the issue. Students would spend 20 minutes researching the issue, finding consensus expert recommendations, spend 10 minutes getting a list of officials to contact, and then the rest of class drafting messages and sending them to the officials. Part of the messages would highlight the importance of voting and other forms of participation for our democratic form of government. Obviously, this would be a bit risky, and it would be hard to get everyone participating — especially in a larger class — but the basics of participation are something easy for students to learn on their own from textbooks, so even if this bombs, they would probably still be fine for their exams. And if it went well, they could learn the content while also improving their sense of efficacy and developing basic political participation skills; and maybe actually making a difference on an important issue.
More on how social identity — here, racial / ethnic identity — can trump (!) ideology and interests.
“This is a dynamic Tesler describes well. “In the post-civil rights era, Democrats needed to maintain their nonwhite base without alienating white voters,” he said. “So their incentive was silence. And Republicans needed to win over white voters without appearing racist. So their incentive was to speak about race in code. The shifts now have made it so Democrats’ incentive is to make explicitly pro-racial equality appeals and Republicans now have an incentive to make more explicit anti-minority appeals.”
Take that idea and extend it out into the coming decades of American politics. The Democratic Party will not be able to win elections without an excited, diverse coalition. The Republican Party will not be able to win elections without an enthused white base. Democrats will need to build a platform that’s even more explicit in its pursuit of racial and gender equality, while Republicans will need to design a politics even more responsive to a coalition that feels itself losing power.”
I haven’t closely examined this study, but the executive summary is jaw-dropping:
“The Democracy Perception Index (DPI) finds a majority of people around the world feel like they have no voice in politics and that their governments are not acting in their interest (51% and 58% respectively). In particular, they have little faith that their government is formed “by the people” and works “for the people”. / Perhaps most surprisingly, this public disillusionment is higher in democracies than in non democracies. Almost two thirds (64%) of people living in democracies thinks their government “rarely” or “never” acts in the interest of the public, compared with 41% of people living in non-democracies.”
This would be great for discussing ideologies and the idea that politics (in my modified-Crickian sense) consists of a set of free nonviolent activities (and that this commitment to freedom and nonviolence sets its apart from other forms of power struggle). Both ideas converge in this discussion of the “alt-right” and “antifa” movements in this thread. On the two-dimensional ideological spectrum that I introduce in Ch. 3, both movements would be low on the vertical axis because they both are authoritarian. But they are literally violently opposed to one another on the left vs. right axis because one seeks to create a white male ethno-state while the other seeks to stop them (because they envision a deeply egalitarian multicultural society).
Link to discussion thread authored by Political Scientist David Neiwert
“Narrated by Bowdoin College Government Professor Andrew Rudalevige, [Founding Principles] provides an introductory overview and basic understanding to American government, but one that is crucial to building citizen-leaders, promoting civic engagement, and working toward the common good.” The Founding Principles website is located here.
Here’s a Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: American Governance in Theory and Action
On Friday, I had the opportunity to observe about 50 Boston young people at work on the city’s youth Participatory Budgeting initiative. I will write the whole story for GOOD Magazine, so this is just a teaser. In essence, volunteer young people (ages 12-25) have brainstormed more than 400 projects that the city could support out of its capital budget. I watched committees of youth come together to study, refine, and screen these proposals. In June, as many youth as possible will be recruited to vote for their favorite proposals at meetings across the city. The city will then allocate $1 million of its capital budget to fund the top-scoring projects.
This is an example of Participatory Budgeting, a process that began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has since spread to 1,500 locations in many countries, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project. It bears some resemblance to other processes, including the New England town meetings that began in the 1600s and still survive in some towns in our region, not to mention the 265,000 village councils of India and other participatory government mechanisms around the world. It is nevertheless an innovation. . . . (Keep Reading)
Are people mostly self-interested egoists who are unlikely to help achieve common goals unless somehow forced or induced to do so by government or other powerful agencies? Although a lot of people (and the assumptions of traditional economics) suggest the answer is yes, there is reason to doubt this is so. Or, to be more precise, there is good reason to doubt it is true of all or even most people. For example, why does anyone voluntarily vote when there is essentially zero chance that doing so will promote the individual voter’s narrow self-interest? And why do people voluntarily recycle or work with others to help out a neighbor in need? At least some people seem to be motivated by a sense of social obligation or some motive(s) other than narrow egoistic self-interest.
Political scientist Nicolas Carnes answers “yes” and “no”. I highly recommend reading both posts, but here’s a taste:
[L]awmakers from different classes bring different perspectives with them: how they think, how they vote, and the kinds of bills they introduce often depend on the classes they came from. The shortage of lawmakers from the working class tilts decisions about the distribution of economic resources, protections, and burdens in favor of the more conservative policies that affluent Americans tend to prefer. Social safety net programs are stingier, business regulations are flimsier, and the tax code is more regressive because working-class Americans are all but absent from our political institutions. . . .
Takoma Park[, Maryland] recently became the first city in the nation to lower the voting age for local elections to 16. Since the law change in May, 134 voters, ages 16 and 17, registered to vote in municipal elections, and 59 cast ballots in November. That means that roughly 44 percent of registered voters in the under-18 voting bloc participated in the city election.
That’s good news for long-term civic engagement, says . . . [Peter Levine, a professor of citizenship and public affairs at Tufts University], because academic research shows that “voting is habit forming. If you voted in a past election, you tend to vote again.” The question going forward, Levine says, is whether the under-18 voters continue to vote at the same level, or if participation was abnormally high because this was the first time a 16-year-old could vote. When Congress lowered the voting age to 18 in 1972 for federal elections, turnout reached 52 percent for 18-to-24-year-olds, higher than in any year since. Another possibility, Levine says, is that parents and school teachers helped teenagers understand how voting works and what elected city leaders do, which motivated teenagers to vote. [Keep reading]
The Annenberg Center and Game Innovation Law at the University of Southern California have produced a nifty game for exploring redistricting and gerrymandering. According to their About Page:
The Redistricting Game is designed to educate, engage, and empower citizens around the issue of political redistricting. . . . By exploring how the system works, as well as how open it is to abuse, The Redistricting Game allows players to experience the realities of one of the most important (yet least understood) aspects of our political system. The game provides a basic introduction to the redistricting system, allows players to explore the ways in which abuses can undermine the system, and provides info about reform initiatives – including a playable version of the Tanner Reform bill to demonstrate the ways that the system might be made more consistent with tenets of good governance. Beyond playing the game, the web site for The Redistricting Game provides a wealth of information about redistricting in every state as well as providing hands-on opportunities for civic engagement and political action.