Student Role in Politics

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Making a Difference, Not a Statement: College Students and Politics, Volunteering, and an Agenda for America Peter D. Hart Research Associates 1724 Connecticut Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20009 April 2001


From February 24 to March 2, Hart Research surveyed a national representative sample of 809 students in four-year colleges and universities; this research, conducted on behalf of the Panetta Institute, gauges students’ views of and involvement in civics and politics. This report summarizes our key findings. The margin of error is ± 3.5% for the overall sample and higher for specific subgroups.

Forty years ago, something began to stir on the nation’s campuses. In March 1961, President John F. Kennedy, sensing the potential idealism of the nation’s youth, signed an executive order creating the Peace Corps, and a few months later, the first cohort of Peace Corps volunteers embarked for Africa. That same year, college students traveled south to join the Freedom Rides, risking life and limb for the civil rights cause. It was the beginning of a youth movement that ultimately changed the face of America, as it touched everything from race relations to women’s rights to war and peace. Four decades later, could students once again provide the energy and idealism that drive social and political change? The results of our national survey among college students suggest that the potential is indeed there. Indeed, the civil rights and women’s movements are now a source of inspiration. And if this potential is realized, this generation is clearly poised to move the country in a progressive direction. In their issue preferences and political leanings, the youth of Generation Y embrace a progressive agenda while rejecting the anti-government cynicism of their Generation X forerunners. Yet, only a fraction of this great potential has been realized so far. Unlike their predecessors four decades ago, today’s college students enjoy the legal...
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