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Can online games improve young people's civic participation?

The League of Young Voters.jpg
The League of Young Voters

Young voters make up to close to 20 percent of the electorate in the United States  a big voting block for any candidate. As of early October, 14 percent of young voters remain undecided. The narrative of disengaged youth in this election is dominating headlines lately, and a recent Pew study points to voter registration among young people on the decline. Youth Radio’s Malachi Segers explores some efforts to turn that decline around, by meeting young people where they are: online.

Youth Radio’s Jaylyn Burns, 17 years-old, is completing an online election quiz, called isidewith.com. It was designed as a tool to engage people in politics by helping them identify what issues are important to them. 

The site matches you up with a candidate that aligns with your political views. Eighteen-year-old Kayla Seay wasn’t surprised by her political match. "It does kind of make me want to vote for Obama, but at the same time, I don’t agree with every issue," says Seay.

Seay will be eligible to vote for the first time this November. But she, like many other young voters, hasn’t made up her mind about voting at all.

Are young people disengaging from politics for good? Taylor Peck, founder of isidewith.com, says no. 

"Teenagers will tell you that they’re not really interested in politics, that they don’t align with anybody. We actually think they will be, and we’ll help remind them which candidates and issues are important to them," explains Peck.

Researchers say young people do have the drive to be political – just not in traditional ways.

Joseph Kahne, is the co-author of the Youth Participatory Politics research project, which recently found that young people use social media to discuss politics frequently. And this research seems to be catching on. Kahne says, "Many young people really respond well when they’re not just being asked to do something in support of a candidate, but are asked what they think or given opportunities to circulate their perspectives throughout their networks." But ultimately it comes down to whether or not young people actually go to the polls like they did four years ago. 

Trying to start that momentum are educators, like James Richter. He’s an American Government teacher at Skyline High School in Oakland, CA. "It’s our job to get them to buy in – and that it’s worth knowing these things, make them understand – they’re going to be tax-payers, and eventually they’re going to be running things, and if they don’t understand how it works, they’re going to be totally unable to engage their lives as citizens," says Richter.

Richter teaches mainly seniors, like Angela Tang, who did register to vote and found the process confusing. She states that, "it’s just really blurry. I think that schools or wherever you register to vote should be more intentional about telling you the steps to take afterward." 

So what happens when an election quiz matches you up with someone you’ve never heard of? That was the case for Jaylyn Burns who was matched at 87 percent to side with Jill Stein on most issues in the 2012 Presidential election. But, is 87 percent compatible enough to make a young person want to do further research? At least Jaylyn now has a new candidate to explore. And maybe other young people will do the same. 

Malachi Segers is a commentator with Youth Radio in Oakland.