Keeping Democracy Strong

Research project aims to deepen civic engagement of rural youth
Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and Abby Kiesa

Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Newhouse Director of CIRCLE, and CIRCLE Deputy Director Abby Kiesa

A grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York is supporting a Tufts project that aims to encourage voting and civic engagement among rural youth.

The project, developed by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and involving a partnership with Rural Youth Catalyst, will include working with youth organizations in Central Oregon and Central and Northern New Mexico.

The program builds on ideas and recommendations in CIRCLE’s Growing Voters study, which called for significant investments in efforts that prepare young people to vote, lead, and engage in the country’s evolving multiracial democracy.

“We are grateful to Carnegie Corporation for their continuing support of CIRCLE and our work helping young people meaningfully participate in civic life,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Newhouse Director of CIRCLE, who will co-lead the project with CIRCLE Deputy Director Abby Kiesa. “Our nation was built on the ideals of representative democracy, but those ideals can’t flourish where there is inequality.”

Action steps that achieve “equitable electoral participation are urgent and possible,” said Kiesa. “A long-term problem faced by U.S. democracy is inequality in civic opportunities for and among young people. Systemic barriers too often leave young people feeling ignored and unwelcome—especially those living in racially and economically marginalized communities. It's critical to interrupt this decades-long trend now to safeguard the core values of democracy.”

In keeping with CIRCLE’S “ecosystem” approach, the study will emphasize locally based and collaborative research. “We have found that robust and realistic action plans are developed and implemented by building alliances among diverse stakeholder groups,” said Kawashima-Ginsberg.

CIRCLE, founded in 2001 with a generous grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and The Pew Charitable Trusts, is considered the national leader in nonpartisan independent research on youth civic engagement in the United States. It is widely respected for groundbreaking studies that investigate, and illuminate, how diverse pathways to civic life can support inclusive and representative democracy in the United States.

In 2018, a CIRCLE project analyzed the impact of social media platforms on youth civic and political engagement—particularly important given the 2018 midterm cycle. And in 2022, CIRCLE conducted a survey of young people, ages 14 to 25, in partnership with Action for the Climate Emergency, to explore barriers and opportunities for growth in relation to climate activism, since climate change has emerged as a top issue that motivates and influences young voters.

“CIRCLE’s interest areas and values well align with those of Carnegie Corporation of New York,” said Andrew Geraghty, program officer with the corporation’s U.S. Democracy Program.

“Our foundation is committed to fostering a fair, inclusive, and vibrant democracy that welcomes and offers opportunities to all,” he said. “Inadequate civic education and engagement—especially among young Americans—is a fundamental threat to that effort. By identifying promising practices to civically engage rural youth, CIRCLE will strengthen our democracy for generations.”