Girl Scout Research Institute

March 2009 Issue No. 6

Election Positively Influenced Girls’ Leadership Goals

The 2008 presidential election was not only historic but it engaged voters in new and exciting ways.  Voters came out in unprecedented numbers to cast their ballot for a new president and vice president of the United States of America.  According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE, 2009), an estimated 23 million young Americans under the age of 30 voted—an increase of 3.4 million (or 4 to 5 percentage points) compared with 2004.  To capture the impact that the election had on youth, the Girl Scout Research Institute conducted a survey immediately after the election with over 3,200 youth ages 13 – 17 across the U.S.

The findings of the survey, reported in The New Leadership Landscape: What Girls Say About Election 2008 (2009), showed that many girls and young women across various ethnicities and backgrounds support President Barack Obama and are inspired by his stance on the issues and his leadership style.  Girls said that the election increased their confidence and are resolved more than before to achieve their goals in the future.  To further assess impact, comparisons of this survey’s findings were made with the findings of the GSRI’s 2007 study on youth leadership, Change It Up! What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership.

Youth continued to be a strong presence even after the election.  In preparation for the Inauguration events, youth nationally and locally answered the call to service in many ways.  Thousands of teen girls applied for service projects with the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.  Four hundred Girl Scouts and leaders volunteered on the National Mall on Inauguration Day, handing out maps, flags and answering questions.  Another 100 Girl Scouts volunteered at RFK Stadium, welcoming and guiding over 40,000 out-of-town visitors into the city. 

This issue of our e-newsletter highlights the findings of The New Leadership Landscape: What Girls Say About Election 2008.  We would love to read your feedback about our newest research and similarly about the leadership of youth in your communities.  Please write to us at, and visit our website for more on what girls say about the election and other issues important to them.


Michael Conn, Ph.D.
Vice President
Girl Scout Research Institute
Girl Scouts of the USA


Girls of different backgrounds and ages are hopeful about the future of the U.S., and are inspired to achieve their goals and dreams because of Barack Obama and the 2008 presidential campaign (The New Leadership Landscape, 2009).

“It has let me know that it doesn't matter what sex or race you are, you can still do what you set your mind to do as long as you keep going and work hard to get there.” -- girl, 15, White
“He's inspired me to look at my community to see how I can help.  He's inspired me to learn to speak in front of people and work on public speaking.  He's inspired me to help my fellow American.  He's made me believe that anything is possible.  He's my hero.” -- girl, 13, Hispanic
“He is open to changes and seems sincere.  He made me feel proud to be a minority in the U.S.  I am not African American but I felt we have come a long way from the days since Martin Luther King's civil rights speech.”  --  girl, 17,  Asian


Election 2008 engendered high engagement and enthusiasm of girls and boys ages 13 to 17 nationwide.  See Table I below for ways youth engaged in this historic election cycle. 

Table I. During the presidential campaign, did you do any of the following?



Follow news about the presidential campaign on TV, radio, or the Internet



Watch any of the candidates’ debates on TV



Try and convince someone to support your candidate



Watch a video about a candidate on YouTube or post a video about a candidate



Visit a candidate’s Web site or page on Facebook or MySpace



*An asterisk indicates statistically significant gender differences.

The majority of youth supported President Barack Obama and hold high expectations for his presidency.

  • President Barack Obama would have won the 13-17-year-old vote with a wider margin than he did the national election.  In the survey, 60% of youth would have voted for Barak Obama compared to 26% for John McCain.  In the national election, Obama captured 53% of the votes while McCain captured 46%.

  • Youth say that the economy should be the newly elected president’s first priority, but with many other competing issues: the war in Iraq, education, job creation, health care, uniting the country, college tuition, taxes, and the environment.


The campaigning of two women candidates and an African American candidate impacted the majority of girls and boys ages 13 to 17.

  • Majorities of both girls (65%) and boys (59%) expressed excitement about the election of the first African American president.

  • More girls (75%) than boys (55%) say that they were excited about the two female candidates running for high office.

More than four in 10 girls ages 13 to 17 say the election has had a positive impact on their desire to be a leader despite becoming more aware of obstacles women face.

  • 43% of girls strongly believe that “girls have to work harder than boys in order to gain positions of leadership” – up from 25% in 2007. 

  • 37% of girls agree that it is more difficult for women to become leaders than men – up from 23% in 2007.

“It has made me realize that there is a change in America from my parents’ or grandparents’ time.  I was always told of the hatred they encountered and it made me realize time has changed.  You can be a man or a woman, black or white.  It’s not your gender or race, it’s how smart you are and how you can help people—not a certain race but the human race.  It has made me want to do better in my life.  I want to make a difference one day.”-- girl,  15, African American


92% of African American, 72% of Hispanic, and 71% of Asian youth ages 13 to 17 expect Obama to bring positive change, compared with 51% of Caucasian youth ages 13 to 17.

71% of girls ages 13 to 17 believe it is likely that a woman will be elected as president in the U.S. within the next 10 years.

71% of girls ages 13 to 17 say they intend to vote when they are eligible.

—GSRI, The New Leadership Landscape: What Girls Say About Election 2008 (2009)


The Girl Scout Research Institute, formed in 2000, is a vital extension of Girl Scouts of the USA.
The GSRI conducts original research, evaluation, and outcomes measurement studies, releases critical facts and findings, and provides resources essential for the advancement of the well-being and safety of girls living in today's world.

The GSRI also informs public policy and advocacy for Girl Scouting.


Girl Scouts of the USA
Mission Statement

Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.



Girl Scouts began to develop its Core Business Strategy in 2004 to ensure that this historic organization continues to be the best leadership experience for girls ages 5 to 17.

The New Girl Scout Leadership Experience, which launched fall of 2008, engages girls in discovering themselves, connecting with others, and taking action to make the world a better place.

Each journey is tied to some of Girl Scouts' 15 national outcomes for girls, as defined in the Girl Scout Leadership Model.

Learn more about the New Girl Scout Leadership Experience for girls!

Girl Scout Gold, Silver, and Bronze Awards
Young Women of Distinction
Challenge and Change
uniquely ME! The Girl Scout/Dove Self-Esteem Project


Girl Scout Research Institute

Public Policy and Advocacy
Washington, D.C., Office

Girl Scouts of the USA

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