Undergrads know more about politics than pop culture

Far from being self-absorbed and uninvolved, American college students today are civically and politically engaged, and more likely to be so than those of the same age who are not enrolled in college, according to a new national study from Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.

The “National Survey of Civic and Political Engagement of Young People” compared the community, civic and political engagement of full-time college students age 18 to 24 with young people not enrolled in college full time. Among the more surprising findings: Young people in both categories are much more likely to know the name of their U.S. senator or representative than the winners of “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars.”

“Young people seem to know more about politics than they know about popular culture,” said project director and Professor of Political Science Kent E. Portney. “This level of political knowledge stands in stark contrast to the image of young people as uninterested in and ignorant about politics and government.”

Half of the college students and 40 percent of the non-college students could name their respective members of Congress. Nearly two-thirds of college students and more than half of the non-college students could name at least one of their two U.S. senators. In contrast, only about 15 percent of the young people knew the name of the most recent winner of “American Idol” and about 10 percent knew the winner of “Dancing with the Stars.”

Approximately 79 percent of college students and more than 73 percent of non-college students said they had voted in the November 2006 elections, but only 10 to 12 percent of respondents reported ever voting in “American Idol” and significantly fewer had voted in “Dancing with the Stars.”

Facebook was a popular channel for advocacy activity. On average, both college and noncollege students belonged to almost four Facebook advocacy groups. According to the Tufts study, Facebook tends to be used more for advocacy of Democratic political candidates and liberal or Democratic causes than for Republican candidates or conservative or Republican causes. While about one in four young people read blogs on political issues, many fewer said they read candidates’ blogs.

More than 61 percent of college students had participated in online political discussions or visited a politically oriented website and more than 48 percent of non-college students had done so.

College Students More Engaged in Community than Non-College Peers

“While political commentators like Joe Scarborough may lament that you can’t count on young people to participate or they’ll ‘leave you at the altar,’ there is surprising little systematic evidence to support this conventional wisdom,” said Portney. “We found that college students tend to be significantly engaged across a wide range of different activities.”

The study found that 58.6 percent of college students reported being somewhat, moderately or very involved in their communities, compared with 36.7 percent for non-college students of the same age. More than 47 percent of college students reported involvement with community service organizations compared with slightly more than 24 percent of non-college students.

“College students also volunteer more often, more frequently take part in cultural and religious organizations, and are more active in raising funds for charitable organizations and causes,” noted Lisa O’Leary, assistant director of the Tufts Office of Institutional Research and Evaluation, and co-author of the study report.

The Tufts-designed survey was administered by Polimetrix among 1000 non-military men and women age 18 to 24. Half were enrolled full time at a college or university and half were not. Gender and ethnicity reflected that of the general population.

Source Tufts University

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