CIRCLE poll reveals rural youth votes can greatly impact 2020 election cycle

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement’s (CIRCLE) poll reveals rural youth votes could be a deciding factor in the November elections.

Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher for CIRCLE, and Adam Strong, a former research impact fellow for the organization, co-authored a report that examined states with large rural populations, including Maine, Iowa, North Carolina, Alabama and Minnesota.

Lundberg explained that those who have the potential to significantly impact the election and races often live in a “civic desert,” with few resources for civic engagement or voting.

“It’s a question of if there is enough opportunity and [if] they have the access that they need to fully take those opportunities,” he said. “There just aren’t as many resources to civic institutions and other forms of engagement [in rural communities].”

Lundberg explained that one of the reasons CIRCLE conducts this research is because engaging with rural parts of the country can make a difference for equity and representation in elections.

“A lot of people might focus on young people in urban communities or young people on college campuses where we can talk about [them being] pivotal in this election, when really … in a lot of unexpected places, young people in rural communities can make an impact and I think that’s something that definitely shouldn’t be overlooked,” he said.

Abby Kiesa, deputy director of CIRCLE, echoed Lundberg’s sentiments and emphasized that Americans and those involved with civic institutions should be cautious not to underestimate the political power of rural youth.

“There are communities where young people have the potential to have a profound impact if people actually talked to them,” Kiesa said.

Kiesa noted that rural areas are not comprised of the same demographics, features or culture and should therefore not be treated homogeneously by civic initiatives and institutions.

Lundberg also spoke to the variety of different experiences young, rural voters share.

“The experiences of a young person living in a state like North Carolina … [in] Charlotte, is probably very different than a young person living in a rural county, [in] different parts of the state,” Lundberg said. “Even within states, there are tremendous …  diversities in geography for young people and a bunch of different lived experiences.” 

Matthew Tolbert, who leads JumboVote’s Democracy Reps program, said that one of his takeaways from the study was to never underestimate the power of the rural youth vote.

“I hope that Tufts folks that don’t come from these rural areas are paying attention and understand that these places aren’t the kind of ‘backwater places’ that they think that they are, and that a lot of the change that they want to see will come from these places that they are overlooking,” Tolbert, a senior from Tennessee, said.

Tolbert explained that young people, especially youth of color, have demonstrated their desire for meaningful change in their communities, whether they are urban or rural. 

“I think it is particularly powerful especially when you put it in the context of the civil rights movement, which was largely a rural movement,” Tolbert said. “A lot of the radical tradition and progressive tradition in this country comes from that exact group of folks, and it’s exciting to see [their] leading the charge today.”

According to Lundberg, CIRCLE’s values will continue to steer their research moving forward. 

“The biggest sort of motivating force for us [at CIRCLE] when we’re picking stories is keeping the mission and values at the forefront of our mind … for the sake of changing systems, and actually trying to improve,” Lundberg said.


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