How do you know if a strategy for civic engagement is going to do any good?
Hahrie Han, a political science professor from the University of California–Santa Barbara, has suggested some questions that those who want to do something to improve voter participation can use as a guide. Ask: Does the action I want to take make voter participation more:
- possible? Does it remove barriers to participation or otherwise make it easier to vote?
- probable? Does it make people want to take part?
- powerful? Does it help people have an actual effect on policy, or directly people’s lives?
The best strategies will do all three.
Here’s an example: Some states have adopted automatic voter registration, which removes one barrier to participation, making voting more possible. But it doesn’t help voting become more probable or powerful.
One strategy for making voting more probable is helping people see how they have skin in the game—how the policies they are voting on could affect them personally.
Ethan Frey of the Ford Foundation, which published an article on Han’s work, suggests that the clearest way to make participation more powerful is to take action in numbers. “Most institutions, especially government, don’t respond to individual demands (unless you have a lot of money) as well as they do to collective action,” Frey writes.
This means that even if civic engagement starts with voting, it probably shouldn’t end there.