History, politics, people of Oly WA

Why Do Young People Vote Less? Reframing the Narrative Through Brain Development

This isn’t normally what you come to this blog for. But I wanted to share an essay I have been working on for a few months on youth voting:

Implications of Brain Science on Youth Voting

There’s tons more context below, but my main point of posting this essay it to get input. So, read on, but also read the essay and let me know what you think. Comments are on in the essay itself.

My experiences during the 2020 election prompted me to re-examine two persistent themes:

  1. The stubbornly low voter turnout among those under 40 and
  2. The ongoing wonder of brain development, an aspect I’ve observed firsthand as I cruise through my 40s and my own children approach adulthood.

My social media often echoes during elections with despair over young voter apathy, with cries of “Why don’t they care?” practically handing the future over to “the old people.” However, my years immersed in local government and political discourse have led to a new question: are we asking the right questions about youth participation?

This is not an exhaustive academic study, though I do cite relevant scholarly evidence. Rather, it is an exploration informed by my own experience. I’ve been a local newspaper reporter, I’ve done a local politics blog as a hobbyist, I have co-hosted a local politics podcast and served as a library trustee, I’ve been deeply engaged in the civic sphere. Currently, I am in a communications role for a local office elections office. So, this essay is not a thorough academic study, but framed on years of accumulated wealth of firsthand observations.

The point is: what if brain development holds a key to understanding the youth voting conundrum? Between the ages of 20 and 40, crucial non-cognitive skills – resilience, self-control, and decision-making – essential for navigating the complexities of voting, undergo significant maturation. This might explain the existing age gap in voter participation and render traditional solutions, such as early civic education, somewhat inadequate.

This suggests we may need to consider alternative approaches. Could compulsory voting, a wider spectrum of political choices, or even non-voting forms of participation like town halls prove more effective in engaging younger citizens?

Like I said, this isn’t normally what I post on this blog. I took the time to do some research and frame my thoughts, but I’m mostly interested in feedback. You can drop a comment here, comment on the essay itself, or contact me some other way to let me know if you think I’m heading in the wrong direction or whatever.


  1. HW3

    I think we have a colossal culture of voter disinterest (casual expectation that all politicians are corrupt and what they have produced eg social security will never benefit the young, concern that the lesser of 2 evils is still evil) and it is maintained by powerful interests (chick Fil a family or whoever that is funding those hegetsus ads saying ‘Jesus hated politics too’ so don’t worry your pretty little head about it). Then we have the fact that a 2 party system in the US will never be as progressive as a lot of people want without scaring some others over to an authoritarian party instead so people either don’t vote or go 3rd party which runs the risk of supporting those authoritarians instead. Ranked choice is a way to both vote for who you want and not torpedo electable anti-authoritarians and that is not producing bad outcomes in eg Alaska. I think mandatory voting to get people used to voting for candidates they don’t love is not a bad idea.

  2. David Higley

    I think you are on the right track. I would love to see more youth participation in voting. I would love to see a deep dive investigation of other countries participation rates to see if any of them do it better and maybe get some tips. The demographics of Brexit underscored it for me because of the fact that the younger people would have to live with this decision for much longer than the older people and yet the voting participation gap between the two was so massive. So maybe not Britain. My thoughts would not to have more civics classes (although I really think we need better civic education) but more civics related activities in school. I would also say voting for someone so outside your generation sucks. Get more younger people running. Think about changing age limits cap the age or put in term limits. Fight every voter restriction aimed at younger people.

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