For Joe Ghio, a freshman at Syracuse University, politics is a way of life. He checks CNN and Fox every day. He’s a member of the College Republicans and recently met presidential candidate Rick Perry.
“Politics is one of the most important things because it affects everyone,” he said.
According to a recent study by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University on civic and political engagement among 18 to 29 year-olds, Ghio is a “political specialist.”
Peter Levine, the director of CIRCLE, said the study found, in 2010, young people could be divided into six different “clusters” based on their political and civic involvement. They measured behaviors based on the results of the 2010 census.
Ghio, like other members of the “political specialist” cluster, is focused on voting and other forms of political activism. They make up 21 % of young people.
“Most young people are involved in some way,” Levine said.
“The broadly engaged” for instance are likely to be leaders in their communities and participate in wide range of activities, including volunteering on a regular basis.
Adelyn Kishbaugh, a senior at Bryn Mawr College, falls into this category.
She’s been volunteering regularly at an animal shelter for ten years now. She also serves in Bryn Mawr’s student government. Kishbaugh said she enjoys seeing the direct impact of her efforts on her community.
“I like to do tangible things,” she said.
The political system, however, doesn’t offer her the same options.
“I’m so frustrated with the entire system because there’s nothing I can do to change it,” she said.
Other categories of young people include the “donors” who give money to political or civic causes they support and the “talkers” who discuss political issues both in person and online, but do not take action otherwise.
“Talkers look like they’re on the verge [of being more engaged],” said Levine.
Neither the talkers nor donors groups existed during the 2008 elections. The 2008 elections were marked by all-around levels of higher engagement.
Levine said the 2008 presidential election had exceptionally high turn-out and enthusiasm. The 2010 mid-term elections, in contrast, were “mediocre.”
13.6 % of young people were placed in the “under-mobilized” group in 2008, another cluster that did not exist two years earlier. While these people were all registered to vote, only 40% of them actually went to the polls. They are also unlikely to report discussing politics with others.
The 2010 mid-terms also had a higher percentage of the civically alienated than in 2008. The percentage of people not involved at all rose from 16% in 2008 to 23% in 2010.
Levine said young people without any college experience are among the most likely to be in this group.
“Having some college experience is a big plus,” said Levine when it comes to civic engagement.
The high-point for civic and political engagement among voters in this age group is actually students attending a four-year college.
“College itself is full of opportunities for engagement,” Levine said.
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