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Electoral Politics For Teens

Electoral Politics For Teens

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Updated on Nov 1, 2012

With this being an election year the nightly news is dominated with talk of who's ahead in the polls, primary and caucus results, and campaign updates. In the midst of it all, are our teens watching? Do they care what is happening on the political scene? Or understand it? And, with often confusing talk of delegates and superdelegates, caucuses and the electoral college, do we as parents understand the electoral process well enough to discuss it with our teens?

The interest and involvement of young people in this election has actually increased significantly over recent years. As Matt Smyth, Director of Communications at the University of Virginia Center for Politics puts it, "Modern elections are becoming increasingly relevant to young people. Young people are being provided more and more opportunities to have their voice heard." And it seems they are taking advantage of it.  According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, youth turnout has been much higher in the 2008 primaries than in recent years. In some states, youth turnout has tripled or quadrupled.

Even teens who are not yet 18 may have an interest in political issues. As Karlo Marcelo, a research assistant at CIRCLE, says, "Voting is just one way to get involved electorally. Young people can also volunteer for political campaigns, donate money, persuade others to vote, and display political buttons/stickers/signs.  So, [even] young people that are not 18, can still get involved."

But there's no denying that electoral jargon is confusing, even to many adults. For parents seeking some help unraveling the election terminology, here's a breakdown of often-heard terms.

Super Tuesday: What's so 'super' about it? Well, this year it was the biggest day of primary voting in the 2008 election calendar. On February 5 this year, 24 states held primaries or caucuses to select delegates to the national conventions.

Caucus: A caucus is simply a meeting of supporters or members of a political party, who assemble to begin the process of selecting party delegates which will attend the party conventions. Beyond that, things get complex. There are few rules governing the caucus process, which varies markedly between Democratic and Republican groups, and from state to state.

Delegates: Delegates are individuals chosen to represent their states at their party conventions prior to the presidential election. Rules for choosing delegates are dictated by the parties, not the federal government; they are also complex and can vary greatly between parties and from state to state.

The Democratic Party has two types of delegates. Pledged delegates are elected or chosen at the state or local level with the understanding that they will support a certain candidate at the Democratic Convention, although they are not actually bound to vote for their 'chosen' candidate.

Superdelegates are elected officials who are usually high-level members of the Democratic Party – governors, members of congress, National Committee members, or party leaders (like former presidents or vice presidents). Superdelegates comprise 796 out of the total 4049 delegates, or about 20% of overall delegates. They are not obligated to indicate a preference for any candidate. They can pledge support to one candidate and then change their minds later. To become the Democratic presidential nominee, a candidate needs to win 2025 out of the 4049 total delegate votes.

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