Many Young Voters Likely to be Missing in Action in November Election

Oct 29, 2012, 08:00 ET from Educational Testing Service

PRINCETON, N.J., Oct. 29, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With just over a week until the presidential election, there's little hope of a high voter turnout among young people according to a recently released report from Educational Testing Service (ETS). The report blames low levels of civic engagement, limited knowledge of civics and government, and indifference toward political affairs among the young.


Even in 2008's election, when young voters played an important role in electing President Obama, fewer than half of Americans ages 18 to 24 actually cast ballots, according to the report, Fault Lines in Our Democracy: Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior, and Civic Engagement in the United States, written by ETS researcher Richard Coley and Northeastern University economist Andrew Sum.

In fact, the report warns, the combination of limited civics knowledge and low overall rates of voting and civic engagement — especially for low-income and some minority groups of the young — threatens to weaken the bedrock of our nation's democracy.

"We found that older, more educated adults are more likely to vote, but the trend appears to head downward somewhat, particularly for younger, less-educated voters," Coley said. "For those with the lowest levels of education, the voting rate fell dramatically between 1964 and 2008 from 59 percent to 23 percent. And at the very bottom are young, low-income, high school dropouts, of whom only 4 percent voted in the most recent election."

Since ETS issued its report, other studies such as the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement's (CIRCLE) recent report, have confirmed that our nation's schools are not adequately promoting student interest in elections or providing strong civic education, Coley said. "The CIRCLE report found that only eight states have standardized tests specifically in civics education at the high school level, and only two states, Ohio and Virginia, require students to pass them to graduate," he added.

In the most recent national assessment of civics, only about one-quarter of students reached the "proficient" level, demonstrating solid academic performance. Only 27 percent of fourth-graders could identify the purpose of the U.S. Constitution. And, only 22 percent of eighth-graders could recognize a role played by the U.S. Supreme Court, the ETS report notes.

Slightly more than 56 percent of young adults in the United States pay attention to political affairs, while a combined 42 percent reported they pay attention "only now and then" or hardly at all, according to data cited in the ETS report. Improving the civic engagement of the U.S. population, especially among the young, will require concerted efforts on many fronts, Coley said. "Our nation's high schools can play a positive role by boosting graduation rates, increasing knowledge of political issues and civics, and expanding opportunities for students to participate in civic activities and encouraging those of voting age to register before graduation." 

Coley and Sum are experienced at print and broadcast interviews, and are available to speak with reporters.

Download copies of Fault Lines in Our Democracy: Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior, and Civic Engagement in the United States at or engage in the discussion on Facebook®,

About ETS

At ETS, we advance quality and equity in education for people worldwide by creating assessments based on rigorous research. ETS serves individuals, educational institutions and government agencies by providing customized solutions for teacher certification, English language learning, and elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as conducting education research, analysis and policy studies. Founded as a nonprofit in 1947, ETS develops, administers and scores more than 50 million tests annually — including the TOEFL® and TOEIC® tests, the GRE® tests and The Praxis Series assessments — in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide.

SOURCE Educational Testing Service