Who Are They and What Are They Thinking?
Are they worried about the future of student loans (not really)? Are they worried about finding jobs (yes)? Are they concerned about climate change (less than you would think)? Do they wonder about affordable health care (more than you might expect)?
The best source of information for me is the day to day interactions I have with students on our campus. I tell our incoming freshmen each year that I will stop them on campus and ask them, “What did you learn today?” This usually leads to a conversation about a myriad of thoughts and ideas, their experiences on campus and their plans and priorities. I actually do ask those wearing headphones what they are listening to. It is no surprise that I typically do not recognize the artist, and have yet to have a student respond, “My favorite Puccini opera!”
But I am also interested in gaining a broader perspective on attitudes and beliefs of young people beyond this campus. And one of the most helpful resources for this information is an annual study conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Over a decade ago and initiated by two undergraduate students, this Institute began conducting an Annual Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes towards Politics and Public Service.
Initially, this national survey included 800 respondents who were currently enrolled in college. Over the years, the survey has broadened considerably. It now includes respondents between the ages of 18-29, is conducted online and in both English and Spanish. By including young Americans who are not in college, the results provide a comparison that is helpful to understanding both populations. The most recent survey was conducted between March 23 and April 9, 2012 and included over 3,000 respondents.
The demographic and political profiles generated from this research provide an interesting perspective. I was surprised that only 87% own a cell phone and only 90% have Internet access. I thought both of these would be closer to 100%. The profile of their personal relationships is also revealing. Only 21% are married, 14% are living with a partner, 1% are divorced, 1% are separated and 63 % have never been married.
The employment statistics reflect the state of the economy. Only 55% are working as a paid employee, 4% are self-employed and 23% are actively looking for work. It is unclear what the status is of the remaining 18% of respondents.
Because the demographic (race, gender, religious affiliation) and educational status are consistent with national data on this age group, the political and ideological profiles generated from this study provide a helpful context as we enter this election year.
Only 65% are registered to vote and only 58% who were eligible voted in 2008. Despite the persistent perceptions of young Americans’ political leanings, only 36% identify themselves as liberal and 35% say that they are conservative. The remaining respondents self-identify as moderates. This is mirrored in their party affiliations with 37% saying that they are Democrats, 24% Republicans and 38% Independents.
What are their most important issues? How do they assess current issues? More to come on this next week.
(As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.)