The youth vote took center stage this week when a leaked video showed a Republican activist rejoicing that fewer college students might vote since many campuses were closed. Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, a youth nonprofit championing the free market and limited government, said the college student vote might be reduced by half a million — and that was a good thing.
He was speaking at a Council for National Policy meeting, a network of conservative activists and donors.
His words run counter to efforts by youth development leaders, who see the civic engagement of young people as critical to both democracy and young people’s own development.
“Youth civic engagement is important for a slew of reasons,” said Abby Kiesa, director of impact at the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University. “First and foremost, young people are big parts of our communities. And they deserve to be represented and have their perspectives heard and known.”
If young people are excluded or don’t take part, democracy suffers because they are not represented, according to CIRCLE.
Civic engagement is the goal of many youth-serving organizations because it helps young people. Research shows that young people develop in more positive ways when they have opportunities to engage in their communities.
They benefit from having their voices heard, Kiesa said. Engaged youth have stronger academic progress and develop skills and experiences that can help them in the workplace, she said.
“The earlier someone starts to vote, the more likely it is that they become a lifelong voter,” she said.
In addition, some issues, such as policies around education, affect young people disproportionately, said Kristian Lundberg, associate researcher at CIRCLE.
“In many ways, you do need youth voices at the table to provide an alternate perspective,” he said.
A misconception about the youth vote is that young people are apathetic or only want to vote when the right candidate motivates them, he said.
“It’s not a question of enthusiasm — at least not as much as it’s a question of access and opportunity for a lot of young people,” Lundberg said.
Turning Point USA is an effort to engage young people politically. Kirk, who founded the organization in 2012 when he was 18 has not yet responded to efforts to contact him. But Facebook recently banned a group it said was working for Turning Point by hiring teenagers to create hundreds of fake Facebook accounts to simulate support for President Donald Trump. This “troll farm” made false claims about mail-in voting and dismissed concerns about COVID-19, according to the New York Post. Turning Points denied that it helped fund the troll farm, the Post reported.
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