- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Once upon a time, politically engaged college students were not content unless they chanted, marched and were tear-gassed while attempting to take over the campus administration building.

Things have become more tepid on campus, according to a Harvard University survey of college students released yesterday.

Although 78 percent of the young respondents say they are registered to vote, only half consider themselves keenly interested in politics. Two-thirds have never attended a political demonstration, 84 percent have never volunteered on a political campaign and 83 percent have never donated money to a political cause.

Though they nurture specific political beliefs, the students are passive: Seven out of 10 consider wearing a wristband in support of a particular cause a “political activity,” but 78 percent said they had never worn one.

Another 77 percent thought that forwarding an e-mail to friends or family about specific issues was a political act, though 70 percent had never done so.

The poll was quick to offer a headline reading, “Like most Americans, college students rate President Bush near historic lows,” revealing that his approval rating was 41 percent.

Yet tucked on page 15 of the 25-page survey results was the finding that 85 percent of the students said they trusted the president to “do the right thing” some, most or all of the time. Almost all — 97 percent — felt the same about the U.S. military and the Supreme Court. Fewer than a quarter felt the ethical conduct of Congress has declined in recent years.

However, the students were pessimistic. Seven out of 10 think politics are too partisan, Washington politics are too negative and elected officials are “selfish” and don’t share the priorities of the typical campus.

But hope springs eternal. Nine out of 10 of the students thought political campaigning or holding office was “honorable,” while more than 80 percent said political engagement was a way to solve the nation’s important problems.

“Given current events and political climate, it’s understandable that college students are more skeptical about today’s elected officials and the political process. However, students strongly believe there is great honor in public life,” said Jeanne Shaheen, director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

The student survey found that seven out of 10 said religion was important in their life. Although much has been made over the political impact of Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, 56 percent of the respondents said they “hardly ever” watched the comedic anchorman.

The survey of 1,204 students was conducted Oct. 10-18, with a margin of error of three percentage points.

Meanwhile, an unprecedented survey of 764 college and university presidents released Nov. 2 sheds light on the political leanings of campus leaders.

The Chronicle of Higher Education found that the officials voted for Sen. John Kerry over President Bush by a 2-to-1 margin in 2004 — 56 percent to 28 percent, respectively.

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