Get the #FamilyVote Out!

familyvoteGet ’em while they’re young. That’s the core idea behind a buzz-worthy new initiative to instill the habit of political participation in young children.

Spearheaded by Parents Together Action, the project is encouraging parents to take their kids with them to the polling site when they vote or fill out a mail-in ballot together. Then the family can proudly showcase the moment by taking a #FamilyVote selfie outside and posting it on social media. (Taking a selfie photo that shows a completed ballot may or may not be legal in your state, but taking a family pic outside is fine everywhere.)

The #FamilyVote movement isn’t just fun and culturally astute; it’s also based on solid research on electoral participation. As noted here, “Voting is a habit. People learn the habit of voting, or not, based on experience in their first few elections.” New family traditions that normalize voting and portray it as a universally American civic duty could end up being a major boost to voter turnout in future elections.

This op-ed in The New York Times furthers explains the stakes:

Joshua Tucker, a professor of politics at New York University, cited work by the political scientist Mark Franklin in 22 countries around the world. “You get this situation whereby if you vote when you’re young in the first three elections, that’s likely to predict you continue voting,” he said. “If you don’t vote in the first three elections for which you’re eligible, you’re less likely to vote for the rest of your life.”

“Even one failure lowers the chance of voting later,” said Dr. Franklin, an emeritus professor at Trinity College. On the other hand, he said, “somebody who’s voted three times, they may miss a few but they come back to it. Somebody who’s only voted once may never vote again.”

So why promote family voting as one of the new American traditions? Children often learn by seeing and doing, not just from being told:

“Voting behavior is very much a habit,” said Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. “If you’ve had the behavior modeled in your home by your parents consistently voting, by political discussion, sometimes by participation, you start a habit formation and then when you become a little older you’ll feel it’s your duty and responsibility to register and vote.” Civics courses are much less effective in transmitting that sense of duty and responsibility, he said.

“Voting is very much about a sense of duty and responsibility,” Dr. Brady said. “If your parents have implanted in your mind that there’s a duty and responsibility, you’re much more likely to vote.”

For more information, see Parents Together Action (2016), as well as “What Really Makes Us Vote? It May Be Our Parents,” The New York Times (2016).