Released: October 2000
Recent decades have seen significant declines in political participation and growing levels of political mistrust. Perhaps most disturbing, these declines have been most pronounced among young Americans. For example, according to U.S. Census data, in 1972 nearly half (49.6 percent) of 18-24 year olds voted in the presidential election. By the 1996 election, voter turnout among this group had fallen by nearly one-third, to only 32.4 percent. Many people looking at such data believe that young Americans are apathetic and disengaged from American politics.
Dismayed by these arguments, a group of Hamilton College students organized NY2K, a website designed to inform their peers about the 2000 New York U.S. Senate race between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio. In addition, they developed a national survey of 18-24 year olds to better understand young people's attitudes about politics, and perhaps to find ways to increase their political participation.
This project was made possible by the generous support of the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY, which has conducted several national surveys of young people's attitudes. The polling firm of Zogby International of Utica, NY, conducted the survey.
Zogby International contacted 402 randomly selected persons between the ages of 18 and 24 from October 13-18. The Hamilton College students of NY2K composed the survey instrument. The margin of error for the full sample was +/- 6 percent.
- Are you registered to vote?
- Are you likely to vote in national elections?
- Have you considered going into politics?
- How often do you follow political news?
- Have you ever volunteered for a political campaign?
Based on their responses to these questions, respondents could score anywhere from 5 to 12 points, with 5 being the most engaged in politics and 12 being the least engaged in politics. "Civics" were those most involved with politics and included those respondents who scored 5 or 6. This included 83 respondents or 20.5 percent of the sample. "Disengaged" were those least involved in politics and included those who scored 9 or more. This included 90 respondents or 22.4 percent of the sample.
- "Civics" were more likely to be men (62.7 percent) than women (37.3 percent), while the "Disengaged" were 58.9 percent women and 41.1 percent men.
- "Civics" were more likely to belong to a political party (77.1 percent) than the "Disengaged," most of whom (58.9 percent) considered themselves independents or weren't sure about their political affiliation.
- Nearly all the "Civics" (92.8 percent) had at least some college, compared to only 68.9 percent of the "Disengaged."
This survey should be a wake-up call for all who believe that young people lack an interest in political participation. Our results show that while many young Americans hold cynical views of politics, they are not completely alienated from the political system, and the majority of them are concerned about issues and the future of the government. Furthermore, a significant number of young people express a desire to go into politics and have volunteered for political campaigns. Finally, most young Americans believe that they and their peers would participate more in politics if candidates spoke to the issues that concerned them and if more attention was paid to politics in the schools. This is also reinforced by our analysis of the "Civics" and the "Disengaged," since the former were much more likely to have at least some college education than the latter.