With unfounded statements like Herman Cain's "Black voters are brainwashed" flying around, it's nice to have some actual numbers about African-American political engagement, especially when it comes to young people, who are often written off as being inexplicably checked out with respect to civil engagement.
Today, Tufts University's Center for Information Research on Civil Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) released the results of in-depth research analyzing the civic engagement of young black voters. The study, "Youth Civic Engagement in the United States, 2008-2010: Understanding a Generation," shatters stereotypes and dispels many common myths about the ways in which young African Americans, ages 18-29, are involved in the U.S. political system.
The researchers challenge the commonly oversimplified portrayal of young black voters, concluding that the political engagement of young African Americans is much more complicated than many have been led to believe:
The findings revealed six distinct patterns of engagement that have emerged in recent years:
The Broadly Engaged (17.5% of black youth) filled many different leadership roles and did most of the civic and community work performed by young African Americans;
The Political Specialists (15.45) were focused on voting and other forms of political activists;
The Donors (9.7%) gave money to political or social causes but did little else
The Under-Mobilized (21.1%) were registered to vote but did not actually vote in 2010 or do much else
The Talkers (13.8%) report discussing political issues and were avid communicators online, but did not take much action otherwise; and
The Civically Alienated (22.5%) did hardly anything at all.
Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE, points out that the numbers are, in part, troubling: That one in five young black voters is almost entirely civically alienated "reduces such individuals' political power, making them easy to ignore, and keeping them away from networks and organizations that work together to support both political and personal gains."
But the study also illustrates important opportunities to increase civic engagement in 2012, in a way that digs beneath generalizations and stereotypes and recognizes something that anyone who's ever been a young black person already knew: that the group isn't homogeneous with respect to political engagement — or anything else, for that matter.
Read the entire study at CivicYouth.org.