Advancing a Free Society

Civic Purpose among American Youth Today

Friday, April 22, 2011

Political knowledge and interest among the young has been in decline for fifty years. Although some of today’s young are active in civic and political affairs, there are huge gaps in the interest and participation of the broader youth population. Such gaps can be found in voting patterns, political knowledge, aspirations to civic leadership, and attitudes towards public life.

Even in the highly charged 2008 presidential election, only 52% of 18-24 year-olds voted, a mere 4% increase over 2004 and on the low end of trends since 1972 (when 18-year-olds were first granted the vote). Our own research on youth purpose has found that only a tiny fraction of young Americans now aspires to political leadership. What’s more, young people’s attitudes about our democracy are often marked by skepticism, distrust, and lack of interest. Of special concern is that disadvantaged and culturally marginalized populations of youth often express the highest degrees of alienation and disaffection.

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