Civic growth: Learning about politics from a young age

Posted by on July 13, 2017 at 11:21 AM

By Jacel Egan, Marketing Communications Manager, icitizen

Saying the pledge of allegiance, raising the flag at school each morning … there are plenty of ways civics can be introduced and embedded into our daily routine at a young age.

First learning about politics

After the Fourth of July holiday, our team released the results of our poll on American values, which asked when people first learned about voting and elections. According to the results, over half (51%) of Americans first learned about voting and elections from someone in their household, like a parent or guardian.

For millennials, a pivotal moment in learning about politics was the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. You remember the infamous hanging chads, right? It was all my parents discussed for a month, and hanging chads were popular Halloween costumes for years.

Additionally, slightly more than a third (36%) first recall learning from a K-12 teacher – perhaps diving into government and civics in social studies or U.S. history class. Just 2% said “a friend,” and 1% said “college faculty.”

What’s interesting is that a full 10% of Americans “don’t recall anyone talking about voting and elections.”

When one in 10 citizens claim they don’t remember learning about politics, it makes you scratch your head on how we can do more to educate younger generations to be informed citizens. That way, by the time they’re of voting age, they’ll be equipped with knowledge of the different levels of government and will be more likely to exercise their right to vote.

Civics education as a requirement

Another depressing statistic comes from a 2012 study by the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University, which found that “one in three native-born citizens fail the civics portion of the naturalization test” and show “a low level of knowledge concerning the principles and features of American government that underlie our civic life.”

To tackle this issue, many states across the country have already made civics education a requirement to graduate high school, and lawmakers like Oregon State Senator Chuck Riley (D-15), are looking to be added to that list. The poll he conducted on icitizen in April found over nine in 10 Americans (93%) believe civics education should be bolstered in public schools.

Talking politics to your kids

There is also an argument about whether or not it is appropriate to discuss politics with your children at a young age. Some claim that if you bring your child to a rally or preach from high heaven about your political views, you’re actually imposing your personal political beliefs on them instead of enabling them to develop their own.

But based on the findings of a 2015 study featured in the American Sociological Review, more than half of all children in the U.S. either incorrectly identify or actually reject their parents’ party affiliation. So, sharing your political views with your children doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll agree with you, especially as they get older. 

The internet as a political outlet and information hub

The internet also provides a Pandora’s box of information on any topic, including politics (just open your Facebook feed to see what I’m talking about), and younger people are getting immersed more often, whether they like it or not.

Pew Research Center’s survey on the internet and civic engagement found that “37% of internet users aged 18-29 use blogs or social networking sites as a venue for political or civic involvement, compared to 17% of online 30-49-year-olds, 12% of 50-64-year-olds and 10% of internet users over 65.”

As these “digital natives” grow older, will their early exposure to politics positively affect their interest and participation in the political process? Only time will tell.


What do you remember about when you first learned about politics?