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Want to Increase Voter Turnout? Teach Adolescents to Have Goals

by David Yee, published

"Voter turnout in the United States is dismally low."

A recent academic paper exploring the aspects of low voter turnout begins with what we already know--that our voter turnout is horrendously low and getting worse.

Any number of measures have been employed to increase turnout--from motor voter laws to get-out-the-vote campaigns.

But this paper discusses a unique aspect of voter participation, one that seems to carry true from adolescence to adulthood--those who can create, persevere, and achieve goals are far more likely to vote.

Dubbed the psychosocial skill of 'grittiness,' researchers determined that those possessing 'grit' were more likely to get to the polls, and far more likely to wait in lines if need be.

If this is really the case, then we must ask, what goals we are teaching each generation?

One thing we have learned from America's extended wars in the Middle East is that many returning soldiers have had such incredible difficulties coping with the extreme levels of stress that programs of resilience training have been added into military training -- with one program already being tested on 1.1 million soldiers.

And while modern soldiering is an extreme example, it shows that the mental toughness and grit of the current generations are simply not as high as previous ones.

Maybe the best training we can give the next generation contains solid lessons in civics, government, and service during their adolescent years. A growing number of school districts require a certain amount of community service work in order to graduate -- this is a very good start.

Students have to be taught that even though they (or their parents) aren't carving out the wilderness forming the nation, their participation in society is what keeps society functioning and growing.

Our voter problems aren't totally from apathy; our voter turnout problems are largely due to a total disconnect between the person and what it means to be a good citizen -- producing for society, building society, and directing society.

This raw grit is the very basis of the independent voter thought that we can be tough enough, smart enough, and resilient enough to make positive changes to our country.

In the end, voter apathy comes full circle. If true engagement into the political process happens, voter apathy becomes voter engagement, and not just a party-line marcher, but true political engagement that is interested in making real changes and tough decisions for our nation.

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