AUSTIN, Texas—The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation at The University of Texas at Austin has received a combined $340,000 in funding for Phases II and III of the Campaign for Young Voters, a project aimed at increasing the involvement of young people in the democratic process.
The national campaign is sponsored by The Council for Excellence in Government in Washington, D.C., with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The overall head of the campaign is former U.S. Rep. David Skaggs, D-Colo.
The Strauss Institute is providing the research arm for the campaign, a project designed to increase political candidates’ involvement with young people.
“We are very excited to be part of this project,” said Roderick Hart, director of the institute. “All too often, political candidates are unsure how to reach out to young people. The techniques we are developing should help get youth involved in the democratic process.”
The first phase of the campaign saw the development of a “Candidate Toolkit” designed to help public officials understand what young people think about politics and how they might be approached during campaigns.
Phase II field-tested these approaches in the off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia in fall 2001.
Phase III begins this September in five specially selected congressional districts: Fresno, Calif.; Little Rock, Ark.; Des Moines, Iowa; Scranton, Pa.; and El Paso. Candidates of both parties will be asked to run youth-centered campaigns, during which Strauss Institute researchers will survey young people’s political attitudes. Local media institutions and community groups also will be asked to help.
“We want candidates to think of young people as a large, unclaimed constituency,” Hart said. “At the same time, we want young people to realize how dangerous it is to ignore political life. With any luck, we can achieve both results.”
The Strauss Institute helped create the Toolkit by analyzing focus group transcripts of young non-voters interviewed in the Austin, Philadelphia and San Francisco areas in the spring of 2000.
“Our research with the focus groups showed that many of the stereotypes about young people are wrong,” said Dr. Sharon Jarvis, co-director of The University of Texas at Austin project. “It’s not so much that they have abandoned civic life as that they often feel overwhelmed by politics and by their own inexperience. Candidates have got to learn that young people’s apparent indifference often masks a kind of political humility on their parts.”
The Toolkit tries to get candidates to accept this more complex view of young voters.
The Strauss Institute was started in April 2000 to conduct original research on civic involvement and to develop new ways of increasing democratic understanding among the nation’s citizens. The institute is named after Annette Greenfield Strauss, former mayor of Dallas, who died in December 1998. She spent her life doing community volunteer work and working in local political affairs.
“Annette Strauss was a remarkable person who vividly demonstrated the importance of civic responsibility,” Hart said. “We think she would be delighted by this new initiative of ours.”
For further information contact: Dr. Roderick Hart (512) 471-1956.