The behavior of Young American Politicians
Significant decreases in political involvement and rising levels of political mistrust have occurred in recent decades. These declines have been especially severe among young Americans, which is particularly concerning. According to U.S. Census data from 1972, nearly half of 18-24-year-olds (49.6%) voted in the presidential election.
By the 1996 election, this group’s voting turnout had dropped by over a third, to only 32.4 percent. Many people who examine such statistics believe that young Americans are apathetic and uninterested in politics in the United States.
Disgusted by these disputes, a group of Hamilton College students created NY2K, a website to educate their peers about the 2000 New York U.S. Senate campaign between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio.
They also conducted a national poll of 18-24-year-olds in order to better understand young people’s political beliefs and, maybe, uncover measures to boost their political participation.
The Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY, which has done multiple national polls of young people’s sentiments, generously supported this initiative. The survey was performed by Zogby International, a polling firm based in Utica, New York.
From October 13 to 18, Zogby International contacted 402 people between the ages of 18 and 24 at random. The survey instrument was created by NY2K students at Hamilton College. For the entire sample, the margin of error was +/- 6%.
Despite popular belief that 18-24-year-olds are disconnected from politics, the study demonstrates that the majority of young people are interested in and aware of politics.
For instance, 88.1 percent of those polled stated they were registered to vote, and 76.9% said they planned to vote in national elections. 61.7 percent said they followed political news occasionally, while 29.4 percent said they followed it constantly.
Significant minorities also expressed considerably stronger ties to politics. 22.4 percent indicated they had volunteered for a political campaign, and 29.1 percent said they had contemplated going into politics.
Issues were very significant in choosing how young people would vote, according to 95% of those polled. Only a tiny percentage of people indicated celebrity endorsements (2.2%), candidates’ race (5.2%), or candidates’ physical appearance (6.2%) were very significant to them..
Given the importance of topics to young people, education was by far the most important to them (27.1%), followed by Social Security (9.0%), and abortion (9.0%). (4.5 percent).
When asked about the causes for young people’s lack of political participation, 33.6 percent strongly agreed that politicians do not pay enough attention to their concerns, and 32.1 percent strongly agreed that negative campaigning turns them off.
Only 7.2 percent strongly agreed that politics was too confusing for young people, and 15.2 percent strongly agreed that young people were too apathetic.
The Students revealed:
“Our survey also profiled the young people most involved in politics and those least involved. To determine these categories, respondents were asked a series of questions about their attachment to politics”
- 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?
Respondents might receive a score of 5 to 12 based on their responses to these questions, with 5 being the most politically involved and 12 being the least politically engaged. Those who scored 5 or 6 on the “Civics” scale were those who were most interested in politics.
This accounted for 83 people or 20.5 percent of the total sample. Those who scored 9 or higher were considered “disengaged,” meaning they were not involved in politics. This accounted for 90 people or 22.4 percent of the total sample.
When asked about ways to enhance young people’s political participation, 72.9 percent said that having politicians pay more attention to their issues would help a lot, and 70.4 percent said that more political education in schools would be beneficial.
According to the poll, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader who is also a young politician has a lot of support among young people. When asked who they would vote for if all candidates were on the ballot, 11.7 percent said they would vote for Ralph Nader. Those who described themselves as political independents or unclear about their party identification increased Nader’s support to 21.1 percent.
In a question about who they would vote for in the presidential election, George W. Bush received 44.5 percent, Al Gore 32.8 percent, and Pat Buchanan 1.5 percent.
When asked which politician they supported, young voters preferred Bill Clinton (7.9%), George W. Bush (7.1%), Ralph Nader (6.3%), Al Gore (4.2%), and Jesse Ventura (4.2%).
The survey also discovered a significant divide among young people based on their political affiliation. In comparison to 37.3 percent of Republicans, 19.4 percent of Democrats and 22.4 percent of independents stated that a candidate’s gender was at least somewhat important to them.
When asked whether a candidate’s sexual orientation was relevant, 23.2 percent of Democrats and 36.1 percent of independents responded yes, compared to 88 percent of Republicans.
When asked if a candidate’s religion was important, 26.5 percent of Democrats and 28.8 percent of independents replied yes, compared to 65 percent of Republicans.
This survey should serve as a wake-up call to all young politicians who believe that young people are uninterested in politics. While many young Americans have cynical views of politics, our findings suggest that they are not completely cut off from the political system, and the majority of them are worried about issues and the government’s future.
Furthermore, many young people have expressed an interest in politics and have volunteered for political campaigns.
Finally, most young Americans believe that they and their peers would be more engaged in politics if candidates talked directly about their concerns and if politics received more attention in schools.
Our comparison of the “Civics” and the “Disengaged” confirms this, with the former having a far higher likelihood of having at least some college education than the latter.