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The “Millennial Generation” is made up of young Americans between the ages of 18-29. Unlike Generation X that preceded them, “Millennials” are more engaged in their communities and follow what is going on in government. Millennials show improved rates of voter turnout beginning with the 2004 and the 2008 presidential elections and robust rates of volunteering, despite the recent economic downturn.
Unfortunately, research shows that there are also reasons to be concerned about the commitment of Millennials to the democratic process. Large numbers of young people are minimally-to-not-at-all engaged in the civic and political process and exhibit low levels of confidence in government and low rates of political knowledge. Even more alarming, recent survey research suggests that, despite steady rates of volunteerism, uncertainty regarding the nation’s economic future seems to be shaking youth confidence in the government and their future. There is a pervading sentiment that institutions of higher education are doing a poor job of providing students with the civic skills necessary to be active members of a thriving democracy.
The Bob Graham Center is working in collaboration with several universities across the country to better understand civic and political engagement among America’s youth.
Important questions remain about engagement among Millennials who focus more on volunteering and service as opposed to traditional forms of political engagement (voting and interest in politics in particular).
Is the present disconnection from traditional forms of politics unique to the Millennial Generation or is it a function of youth?
Does this disconnection reflect a “rejection” of traditional politics by young people?
Similarly, has civic involvement replaced political participation in the minds of young people?
Is this disconnection merely a function of disinterest and/or lack of information?
How well do youth connect community service (in the form of service learning on college campuses) with the political process? Are they willing to make such a connection?
To answer these questions, each university will conduct a series of focus groups composed of college students on their respective campuses - potentially up to 300 research subjects. Each university will ask focus group participants the same set of questions in order to better understand civic and political participation across the country. Furthermore, the Bob Graham Center will conduct a survey meant to measure levels of participation on the University of Florida campus. If we can better understand what activities students are participating in and which ones they are not, the campus as a whole can address the areas where student participation is lacking.
A group of Bob Graham Center students have developed survey and focus group questions and begun data collection. Students working on this project are: Sarah Palmer, Kristin Klein, Ashley Lagaron, Romilda Justilien, James Chan, Dan Hall, Demetri Morgan and Aaron Ginsburg. The results of this research project and the recommendations that the project generates will be disseminated in a written report prepared collaboratively by the research teams at each university.
The universities participating in the project are all members of the National Campaign for Civic and Political Engagement based at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Created in 2003, the National Campaign is a consortium of colleges and universities from around the country whose mission is developing civic-minded and politically engaged college students.
Franklin and Marshall
Louisiana State University
University of Florida
University of Oklahoma
University of Tennessee
University of Virginia