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This Is Why You Have to Take Your Kids With You to Vote

Photograph by Twenty20

In the spirit of keeping things non-partisan, we'll say it doesn't matter whom you vote for Nov. 8, just as long as you vote. The consequences, as Dr. Perri Klass writes in the New York Times, are long-lasting in ways that may frustrate those working hard to get out the vote.

It turns out that, much like bedtimes and nightly dinners, voting depends on routines set by parents when their kids were young. There "is evidence in the world of political science and public policy research that lifelong voting habits are formed in childhood and adolescence, and that those issues of routine and habit may be important in determining voter behavior and therefore election results," Klass writes.

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The findings are based on research out of Cambridge University in the U.K., around voting patterns in industrialized democracies. Researchers found voting patterns are established early in life. Those who vote in all three of the first three elections in which they are eligible are more likely to be lifelong voters. If they miss one election here or there, they're still highly likely to return to it. But if a newly eligible voter misses the first time, or one of the first three elections their eligible to vote in, their chances of abandoning the whole process for good rises significantly.

So how do we get, in the case of Americans, 18-year-olds to the polls their first election? Especially if their address has recently changed or if life—jobs, college, adulting—feels overwhelming? Rocking the vote won't go nearly as far as the fact that voting—going to the polls—is something they've seen before, something they think of as a responsibility, something they were raised to do.

“Voting behavior is very much a habit,” said Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, told Klass in the New York Times. “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.”

Photograph by Twenty20

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Civics courses aren't nearly as effective in getting kids to vote, he told Klass. Other experts said you have to take kids to the voting booth the same way you might take them to church. Talk about what you're doing on the way there and what you did on the way back. (Our parenting pro-tip: Let them have your "I Voted" sticker!)

In other words, like pediatricians always say, start good habits young and stick to them. Be regular, consistent and predictable.

As for low voter turnout? It's apparently all the parents' fault, too. (Because, of course it is. Sigh.) Let's change that.

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