Many of the most pressing political issues in the U.S. today – public education, gun violence, mass incarceration, immigration, and even the right to vote – disproportionately affect African American and Latino youth. Despite the centrality of these young people to the politics and policies of the country, their voices, perspectives and policy preferences are largely absent from news articles, public policy debates and academic research.
Concerns about disparities in political voice and representation were somewhat quelled after the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, in which record numbers of young people, among them a historic number of black and Latino youth, voted to elect the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama. Commentators and party operatives predicted that the youth vote delivered in that election would become a major component of the voting block for years to come. Yet, as we approach the 2016 election, many young constituents are politically disengaged, and question if they will even vote.
The use of polls and surveys to ascertain public opinion is critical in today’s political discourse. While the focus on voter preferences between parties, candidates, and policies is vital, what is also important is knowledge and insights into the ways that increased polarization and shifts in political rhetoric have impacted young people. The best way to decipher these changes is through polls and surveys.