Living Room Conversations & Campus Election Engagement Project Presents: To Vote or Not to Vote

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How do we get students talking about hard and divisive issues in a civil way?

Since 2010, Living Room Conversations (LRC) has created and promoted an approach for structured conversations that allow people to talk in a friendly yet meaningful manner about issues on which they may be strongly divided. These conversations increase understanding, reveal common ground and sometimes steer participants toward possible solutions. They run themselves with no skilled facilitator needed. Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP) and LRC are partnering to bring them to your campus.

LRC has excellent resources on Free Speech on Campus, Student Debt, Guns and Responsibility, Immigration and various other topics, all of which follow a similar format to draw people out across political and experiential divides. They also have videos that demonstrate the LRC approach.

But to engage students in elections, we’d suggest you start with this Living Room Conversation on the divide between voters and nonvoters. It’s designed for campuses, and you can use it in classrooms, dorms, organizational meetings and other campus contexts. To reach large numbers of students, you can also hold it as a stand-alone special event. For questions, contact LRC’s Mary Gaylord at mary@livingroomconversations.org.

**To download a PDF of this resource, click here.**

**To see this conversation in action, check out our Living Room Conversations Video Training**

To Vote or Not to Vote?

To facilitate this LRC, first invite a group of participants, or bring the conversation to an existing group. Then follow these instructions:

  1. The conversation organizer should read through the background information paragraph below to orient the larger group.
  2. Then divide up into small groups (we recommend four to six people per group) and walk through the attached conversation guide.
  3. Reassemble as a full group and leave time for reflection together.

Background for all participants: 2018 was a record-breaking midterm election year, with a 50-year high of 47.5% of Americans participating. It’s a stark contrast to 2014, with the lowest midterm election voter turnout since WWII. But still, half of Americans stayed home. Many people are wondering what kind of turnout 2020 will bring and whether the trend of higher voter turnout will continue. What is it about voting that inspires us to participate or turn away, feeling it’s not worth our effort? Or is there some other reason? In this conversation, we talk about what leads us to vote or not to.

—please divide your group up at this point—

Conversation Agreements

Following these guidelines will help you get the most from your Living Room Conversation experience. Please have each group member read one of the following conversation agreements.

  1. Be curious and open to learning. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking. Enjoy hearing all points of view. Maintain an attitude of exploration.
  1. Show respect and suspend judgment. Human beings tend to judge one another; do your best not to. Setting judgments aside opens you up to learning from others and makes them feel respected and appreciated.
  1. Find common ground and note differences. Look for a common ground you can agree on and take an interest in the differing beliefs and opinions of others.
  1. Be authentic and welcome that from others. Share what’s important to you. Speak authentically from your personal experience. Be considerate of others who are doing the same.
  1. Be purposeful and to the point. Notice if what you are conveying is or is not pertinent to the topic at hand.
  1. Own and guide the conversation. Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and that of the conversation. Be proactive in getting yourself and others back on track if needed.

Conversation Rounds

Timing for each round is suggested and can be altered depending on the length of your session.

ROUND ONE: Getting Started / Hopes and Concerns for the Future? (5 minutes)

Answer one or more of the following questions:

    • What interested you in or drew you to this conversation?
    • What sense of purpose / mission / duty guides you in your life?
    • What would your best friend say about who you are and what inspires you?
    • What are your hopes and concerns for your community and/or the country?

ROUND TWO: What are your biggest concerns about voting? (40 minutes)

Remember that the goal of this Living Room Conversation is for each participant to listen to and learn about the different opinions within the group to see where you might share interests, intentions and goals.

Answer one or more of the following questions:

    • Are you registered to vote? What led you to that decision?
    • What was your experience in getting registered?
    • How important was voting in your family?
    • Do you think citizens have a responsibility to vote?
    • Do you believe our election outcomes would be different with substantially higher voter turnout? How so?

ROUND THREE: What Are We Learning Here? and Declaring Next Steps (5 minutes)

Answer one or more of the following questions:

    • In one sentence, share what was most meaningful / valuable to you in the experience of this Living Room Conversation.
    • What learning, new understanding or common ground was found on this topic?
    • What is one important thing you thought was accomplished here?
    • Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had? —please reassemble as a group at this point for 5-10 minutes of full group reflection—

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