Guest Opinions

Survey of Idaho high school seniors suggests hope for the future

Matthew Shapiro
Matthew Shapiro

The headline of the Nov. 16 article about the Boise Commons’ recent survey of more than 1,300 high school seniors told one part of a story. Two of the survey’s questions asked students about what would motivate them to vote or to not vote; the negative tone around the presidential election had clearly made its way to this age group. The survey revealed much more, however, including some very positive things. As author of the survey project — part of whose purpose was to provide the community with insight into the civic minds of the next generation — I thought readers might be interested in hearing more about what the survey results tell us.

1. The next generation believes that voting is important and makes a difference to their lives. Very few students indicated a belief that voting wasn’t important. In open comments, many students were articulate in their reasons for wanting to vote. A few examples: “The people only control the government if they participate;” “I have been waiting 17 1/2 years for this and politics is my passion;” “Women have fought for the right to vote and I feel like I need to vote to pay them back.”

2. There was a strong correlation between students’ assessment of their parents’ likelihood to vote and their own intention to vote. Some 85 percent of students who said they would be 18 as of Election Day and intended to vote said they believed their parents would vote. Among voting-age students who said they wouldn’t vote, only 36 percent believed their parents would vote. This suggests that parents set a powerful example when it comes to voter participation, which may carry into other forms of civic participation.

3. Students saw federal elections as more important than state, and state somewhat more important than local. Students may be under-estimating the importance of state and local politics on their lives and community. There may be educational opportunities for addressing this both in and outside of schools.

4. Most students like the idea of voting directly on issues. Idaho uses the initiative and referendum processes sparingly compared with some other western states. “Direct democracy” has its advantages and its drawbacks, and students’ support for it invites conversations about what it might take to make it work well.

5. Students showed strong support for a wide range of forms of civic participation and rated several higher than voting in terms of power. The top-rated was “Going out of your way to learn about different perspectives, beliefs, values and opinions.” Close behind was “Choosing a job or career that makes a positive difference in society.” Also highly rated was “Making conscious choices about the impacts of everyday decisions.” Ratings for these were high across all schools. I believe that this is a credit to students’ experience in Boise schools. I also believe that this should give us great hope for the future.

Matthew Shapiro is director of The Boise Commons.