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The Solution Down the Hall: How Introductory Courses in American Government Can Engage Students
Unformatted Document Text:  percent. (Much of this increase is also probably due to the state’s move to same-day registration one month earlier.) Obama received support from a majority of this age group. We have seen similar increases in other states, so perhaps we have turned the corner on a disturbing trend. The problem runs much deeper than nonvoting, however. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement has reported that the rate of participation for younger Americans is at similar or higher levels than the overall population for every type of volunteer organization except political organizations. Here the rate of participation is just one- third of the overall level (see also Kiesa, et.al., 2007). According to the American National Election Study, in the 1960s about 25 percent of those less than 30 years old followed public affairs “most of the time.” By 2004 this figure had plunged to just 13 percent. The UCLA study, “Most of the Nation’s College Freshman Embrace the Internet as an Educational Tool,” draws attention to the high level of community involvement among college freshman also underscores the paradox in political participation. In 1966, some 58 percent agreed that “keeping up to date with political affairs” is very important, but by 1999 that figure had dropped to 26 percent. Only 14 percent of freshmen said they frequently discussed politics, compared with the high of 30 percent in 1968. What is more, a poll of Americans in their late teens and early twenties conducted by the Pew Research Center found that less than 50 percent were thinking “a great deal about” elections in 2000. This compares to about two-thirds in 1992. Roughly 40 percent suggested that it did not matter who was elected president in 2000, twice as many as in 1992 (as cited in Boyte 2003, 86). Only recently have we starting to understand the relationship between civic and political involvement for young Americans. Why would a generation so eager to be involved in civic life refrain from political involvement? Scholar Bill Galston suggests, “most young people

Authors: Shea, Daniel.
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percent. (Much of this increase is also probably due to the state’s move to same-day registration
one month earlier.) Obama received support from a majority of this age group. We have seen
similar increases in other states, so perhaps we have turned the corner on a disturbing trend.
The problem runs much deeper than nonvoting, however. The Center for Information
and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement has reported that the rate of participation for
younger Americans is at similar or higher levels than the overall population for every type of
volunteer organization except political organizations. Here the rate of participation is just one-
third of the overall level (see also Kiesa, et.al., 2007). According to the American National
Election Study, in the 1960s about 25 percent of those less than 30 years old followed public
affairs “most of the time.” By 2004 this figure had plunged to just 13 percent.
The UCLA study, “Most of the Nation’s College Freshman Embrace the Internet as an
Educational Tool,” draws attention to the high level of community involvement among college
freshman also underscores the paradox in political participation. In 1966, some 58 percent
agreed that “keeping up to date with political affairs” is very important, but by 1999 that figure
had dropped to 26 percent. Only 14 percent of freshmen said they frequently discussed politics,
compared with the high of 30 percent in 1968. What is more, a poll of Americans in their late
teens and early twenties conducted by the Pew Research Center found that less than 50 percent
were thinking “a great deal about” elections in 2000. This compares to about two-thirds in 1992.
Roughly 40 percent suggested that it did not matter who was elected president in 2000, twice as
many as in 1992 (as cited in Boyte 2003, 86).
Only recently have we starting to understand the relationship between civic and political
involvement for young Americans. Why would a generation so eager to be involved in civic life
refrain from political involvement? Scholar Bill Galston suggests, “most young people


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