For children, following politics is usually a passive activity. They are too young to vote, and it isn’t easy for them to actively participation in a political campaign. Knocking on doors and making calls to strangers well into the evening isn’t something we want little kids to do. Still, there are things we can do to help children become active participants in the political process. One way to do this is to hold an in-school election, and our new enhanced version of Voters Ed1 lets you do just that.
The Run Your Own Election feature of Voters Ed let’s you:
Simulate a real election in school: The candidates will be the actual candidates for the office in question (for example, president, governor, mayor), and the students express their preferences by voting. This can be done within one class, many classes, or even the entire school. The results may not count in the actual election, but you can use this simulated election to encourage students to learn about the candidates and make an informed decision. Students can also find our how their views compare with others in their school. Expect some surprises. People tend to overestimate the extent to which others agree with them,2 though it’s also possible that students who felt isolated will find out that they are not so alone after all.
Choose your school’s elected officers: In this approach, candidates can set up their profile pages, explain in their bio why they should be elected, and even choose political parties. By doing this, students can develop research skills, as they figure out what their elected officers actually get to do. They can also work on their communication and interpersonal skills, as they get their message out. And perhaps a positive experience here can set the stage for becoming an active political citizen later.
Conduct a poll: Voters Ed election can give students a choice between candidates for actual offices, but it can also pose questions on issues related to:
- National politics (for example, should we keep the Electoral College?)
- Local politics (for example, is the mayor doing a good job?)
- Issues at your school (for example, should the school have a community service requirement?)
- Something fun (for example, cats or dogs? Cake or ice cream? Marvel or DC?)
Polls like this can be interesting as a single data point, and they can also be conducted more than once to see whether anyone is changing their mind. One interesting way to run a debate is to ask a question before the debate, and then ask the exact same question after the debate to see what effect, if any, the debate had on the students’ opinions.
Activities like this can be fun and informative, but they also have a deeper purpose. A functioning democracy depends on active, informed citizens. While it’s a well-established fact that young people vote at lower rates than older people,3 we don’t have to view this as an unsolvable problem. Having active and positive experiences with a political process, even within one’s school, could be a spark igniting long-term interest.