Last week, just two days after the election, Cengage authors of American Government and U.S. History texts sifted through election results in a live webcast and attempted to answer the question: What happens next? Given that most of the presenters had likely prepared their online talks for Cengage’s Election 2016 Virtual Symposium prior to knowing the election’s outcome, it was a challenging assignment involving last-minute tweaking. Yet they handled the task with grace and finesse!

Some pressing concerns among educators now are: How do we teach about this election and how will it affect our young people? Will it motivate them or discourage them from to wanting to participate in government?

Whether young people choose to participate in politics will depend largely on how they voted in this election and whether they’re happy with the outcome, says  Wendy Schiller, Ph.D., a Brown University political science professor and former legislative assistant and lobbyist, responding to the question posed by her talk: “Will the 2016 Presidential Election Widen or Narrow Gateways to Participation in American Politics?”

“Make sure you ground students in how a country reacts to a close election,” Schiller advises American government instructors as they attempt to interpret recent events for their students. In her own classes, Schiller says she’s revisiting past close elections and how they paralleled past presidential legacies. Some topics she’s been discussing include: Do candidates still need “ground games” in this age of technology and rhetoric? Does the amount of money spent on a campaign matter? How do race and partisan demographics play a role in what happens? Would students suggest that any changes be made to the Electoral College that wouldn’t affect the Constitution?

“Bring up the past in a way that remains relevant to students,” she adds. Many students are not aware of the baggage from the past that a candidate brings to the election because they were too young to remember it happening, she explains. Framing the story in context helps shed light on what’s occurred.

Mobilizing our youth

When people are asked to vote, they are likely to vote, says Deborah Schildkraut, a political science professor at Tufts University. Traditionally, young voters aren’t targeted by campaigns because they are viewed as low propensity voters. Consequently, because they aren’t asked, they don’t vote, and the cycle continues.  In her talk, entitled “The Youth Vote in 2016 and Beyond,” Schildkraut points out that only 30 percent of millennials were contacted by either campaign for their vote.

The turn-out rate of young voters (defined here as those from 18 through 29 years of age) was 50 percent, she notes. The overall voter turn-out rate (including both younger and older voters) was 55 percent. While young people “did seem to be energized in this election year,” Schildkraut says, they are still “underperforming.” The turn-out rates for young voters was 51 percent when President Obama was first elected in 2008 and 45 percent in 2012, she adds, so they have been fairly consistent.

Moving forward   

Getting our youth up to speed on the inner workings of the political process and our government helps them become thoughtful, engaged citizens and boosts civic participation. To assist with this goal, Cengage offers a number of resources:

  • American Government: Institutions and Policies, 15e explains the major concepts of our government while also focusing on active citizenship. The textbook features current political news and analysis, offering balanced coverage.
  • Gateways to Democracy, 4e introduces students to the American political system and identifies “gateways” that either facilitate or block participation. Current issues added to the text include a frustrated electorate, the role of the media, diversity and protest politics, and the future of the Supreme Court.
  • MindTap is a highly successful online learning program that help students analyze and apply thinking through online assignments. It is used in conjunction with Cengage textbooks.

In light of the many pressing matters facing our nation today, arming our youngest voters with knowledge and motivating them to think for themselves is an investment, not only in their future, but in America’s future.

How are you discussing the election results with your students? Share your ideas and suggestions for engagement below!