Tyra Walker

Tyra Walker

MPP 2020 BIG Fellows 2019-20 PAE: Building an Inclusive Democracy: Behavioral Insights from Latinx Youth in the Southern United States

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PAE: Building an Inclusive Democracy: Behavioral Insights from Latinx Youth in the Southern United States

Young Latinx voters in the U.S. South vote at the lowest rates of all demographic groups designated by the U.S. Census Bureau. This is particularly striking as Latinx communities are expected to comprise the biggest share of eligible minority voters in 2020, and nearly half of eligible Latinx voters are under the age of 39. This report examines the psychological, behavioral and social factors that influence voting decisions of Latinx youth in the South. To research the lowest voting subgroup of the American electorate, we analyzed U.S. Census Data to determine that Latinx youth in the South vote at lower rates than any other group of eligible voters. We then analyzed voter turnout data from individual Secretary of State offices and met with experts in the field, ultimately narrowing the scope of our project to focus on North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Next, we developed a behavioral science interview guide to test hypotheses regarding the voting decisions of Latinx youth. We interviewed 27 Latinx youth across our target states who ranged from non-voters, infrequent-voters, to frequent voters and deduced behavioral insights to their voting decisions.

Our key findings fit into three broad themes. Finding 1, “What’s the Point of Voting,” reflects our interviewees’ beliefs that voting will not improve their lives. Individuals in our sample had very few examples of feeling like politicians cared for their communities, yet had many examples of feeling let down and exploited by elected officials. Finding 2, “Who gets to be an ‘American Voter’,” reflects the ways in which our interviewees’ identities created behavioral barriers to voting. Our final finding, “Fear, Anxiety & Motivation,” reflects how the widespread fear and anxiety that exists across the Latinx community threatens to depress voter turnout amongst members of this population.

To improve voter turnout amongst Latinx youth in the South, we recommend interventions that address beliefs these individuals have that are likely ​(1) correlated with their decisions to vote and ​(2) malleable. While our research cannot empirically determine whether the behavioral barriers to voting we’ve identified satisfy these two conditions, we believe that the recommendations outlined in this section could be used to test the theories derived from our study.