Dispelling Myths About Young Black Voters

Dispelling Myths About Young Black Voters

A Tufts University study finds that young African-Americans are more involved in civic affairs than commonly believed.

Published November 22, 2011

If you’re among those who believe the stereotype of the apathetic young African-American disengaged from the political process, you’re wrong, according to a report from Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). 


The study, “Youth Civic Engagement in the U.S.: Understanding a Diverse Generation,” seeks to dispel many of the false ideas about the political behaviors of young Black voters ahead of the 2012 presidential election.


It takes aim at the news media for portraying young Black voters as monolithic, and asserts that the group is much more diverse than many first thought. “One thing that will surprise people is that young African-Americans are quite engaged in politics and there’s a more than two-year history of them doing so,” said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE.


“There’s a bunch of stereotypes out there about young African-Americans and there are also negative stereotypes about young people in general, so people tend to think that young people are just slackers who are indifferent and that’s simply not the case," Levine says.


The study shows that in 2008, young African-Americans set an all-time turnout record with a 58 percent rate among 18 to 29-year-olds. That’s the highest of any ethnic or racial group.


The study also finds that nearly 18 percent of young Blacks are broadly engaged, meaning they fill many different leadership roles and perform civic and community work.


But a substantial portion of young Black voters appears to be more talk than action. Some 14 percent are classified as “Talkers” because they were vocal about politics but chose not to participate in the 2010 election.


Levine said, “We don’t know for sure why this group chose not to act but I’d guess they were not too motivated, so they didn’t see the relevance. But their interest shows they care. They just need to be reached out to.”


The research also showed that more than 20 percent of young Black voters are defined as “Under-mobilized,” because they registered but did not actually vote in 2010 and 22.5 percent are “Civically Alienated,” because they hardly did anything to engage politically.


The message to the parties is clear.


“Young Black voters represent a large portion of voters and many are on the verge of participating, Levine said. "It’s malpractice for politicians not to reach out to them. They’re ready to participate if they have effective outreach.”


And those who still believe that young Blacks don’t vote need only to listen to the experts. “Young African-Americans are actually more engaged than whites when you factor income and education," Levine says.


Here's to another myth about young Black people that bites the dust. 


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(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Written by Andre Showell


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