According to a report released by the Educational Testing Service, great concern is warranted regarding the civic health of the U.S. While it may not be surprising that there are some disparities among who votes, the report exclaims it’s “chilling” just how far the disparities are between those of differing educational and income levels.
“The nation’s less-educated, lower-income, and young adults have voluntarily disenfranchised themselves from the voting process,” says the report, authored by Richard Coley of ETS and Andrew Sum of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. “This represents a serious civic empowerment gap for our nation, [and] … should be viewed as a fault line in the bedrock of our nation’s democracy that must be addressed.”
The report described the gap as “historically unprecedented” and in need of attention if the U.S. is to secure a “more broad-based democracy” of active citizens, as highlighted in an article published in Ed Week last May.
The article’s author paints a simplistic picture of the issue; “If you’re young, poor, and a high school dropout, you probably won’t vote.”
Education level alone, according to the report, is revealed as the most significant factor in determining who shows up at the polls, while low-income levels and age add to the unlikelihood of this demographic group including their voice in the democratic process.
In Alabama, The David Mathews Center for Civic Life was established to address the civic health of Americans, focusing on understanding and respecting the differences among citizens, and engaging them in effective, inclusive and productive dialogue. According to its founder, “All fundamental political problems are problems of relationships; therefore, all fundamental solutions have to involve fundamental changes in relationships.”
While the ETS report may not clearly explain why this disparity exists, there may be either a feeling of powerlessness or isolation among those who have not finished high school and are struggling on low incomes.
California took a survey on the question of why some citizens don’t vote, and its results showed similar disparities. The top two reasons for not voting were “just too busy,” and “a feeling that the candidates just don’t speak to them.” Yet more than 80 percent of non-voters agreed that voting is an important part of being a good citizen and having their voices heard. Based on these seemingly conflicting answers, an assumption can be made that many people in this demographic may either feel that their vote doesn’t make a difference, or they may not fully understand the importance of their personal contribution.
“There are many issues in communities that impact all educational and income levels,” said A+ Policy Director Thomas Rains. “Greater efforts are needed to bring these issues to the attention of all citizens and help develop an understanding of how problems can be solved by collective discussion and compromise.”
Recently A+ co-hosted with the Mathews Center a Moderator Development Workshop to begin addressing civic engagement in real, workable ways. The attendees learned how to effectively facilitate discussion around topics of community interest, and planned to take what they learned back to their classrooms and communities.
“This election year is a perfect time to engage students in the process by teaching them how to discuss sensitive, and even controversial issues in productive, civil ways,” said A+ Communications Director Jill West, who participated in the workshop. “The younger generation needs guidance to cut through the political satire and cynicism and understand that they have the power to create positive change in their communities — and voting is a powerful privilege of every citizen.”
A+ and the Mathews Center are partnering again in November to facilitate a two-day Teachers Institute, to expand the idea of encouraging civic engagement with students. More details will be forthcoming, but it is tentatively scheduled for November 13-14 at the American Village in Montevallo.
Contact A+ for more information.