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Old enough to vote: the effect of lowering the voting age on youth civic engagement

Fleisher, Kathryn L (2021) Old enough to vote: the effect of lowering the voting age on youth civic engagement. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Young people historically vote at the lowest rates, and political scientists have long assumed it’s because they don’t care about politics. However, other forms of youth political engagement beyond voting (such as protest) suggest otherwise. The more traditional, one-dimensional view of civic engagement as a measure of one’s voting practices lacks an ability to capture changing trends in what civic engagement actually means, as it is fundamentally missing a deeper understanding of what issues matter most to young people and how they engage with those issues outside of voting. In order to account for and test this, we designed and carried out an experiment on high school students in Pennsylvania that hypothesized that creating and implementing a curriculum on the power of voting and the potential for the student subjects, themselves, to vote will increase students’ interest in and attention to politics, government, and civic engagement. Ultimately, the data resulting from the treatment and control groups involved in the experiment produced a muddled picture of the impact of civic learning on young Americans’ civic proclivities, beliefs, and actions. This led us to believe that the current generation’s approach to government and civics may look, feel, act, and measure differently than contemporary politics as we know it. We suspect that the current political moment -- characterized by rising levels of civic and political engagement happening in concert with dropping levels of trust in government -- may be causing yet another generational shift in what it means to be civically engaged, resulting in experimental outcomes that appear counter to original hypothesis but, upon closer and more critical examination, actually falls in line with more contemporary notions of what civic engagement itself means. The adjusted hypothesis we made in order to adjust for this was: As American students are exposed to more political knowledge and opportunities for civic engagement & learning, students become increasingly cynical and skeptical because the political landscape as it exists today is indeed skepticism-provoking and makes for a fertile environment for the growth of disbelief, disempowerment, and cynicism.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Fleisher, Kathryn Lkaf152@pitt.edukaf152
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Thesis AdvisorKanthak, Kristin
Committee MemberWest, Emily Anne
Committee MemberMacKenzie, Michael
Committee MemberSinclair, Betsy
Date: 25 May 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 27 April 2021
Approval Date: 25 May 2021
Submission Date: 21 May 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 32
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: David C. Frederick Honors College
Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Politics and Philosophy
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: n/a
Date Deposited: 25 May 2021 13:23
Last Modified: 25 May 2021 13:23


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