- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Politics and civic engagement elude many youthful Americans, as does the Republican Party itself, according to a University of Maryland survey of the young and restless released yesterday. It also finds their acceptance of homosexuality and immigrants on the wane.

Interest in politics is tepid: Slightly more than a quarter of them pay close attention to public affairs and vote regularly, and only 2 percent have ever volunteered for a political campaign. An additional 58 percent said they were “disengaged” from civic or political activities. Less than a third could name at least one member of President Bush’s Cabinet, while more than half — 56 percent — were not aware that one had to be a citizen to vote in federal elections.

“It’s important to pay attention to these findings because young people who participate tend to flourish. They complete school. They stay out of trouble. They don’t get pregnant. There is a link between civic engagement and such positive behaviors,” said Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which conducted the survey.

“There are a lot of potential youth votes out there. Political parties need to see that young people are often ready to participate when they’re asked,” Mr. Levine added.

The nationwide poll of 1,658 persons between the ages of 15 and 25 was conducted April 27 to June 11, with a margin of error of three percentage points.

Almost half of the young respondents leaned Democratic, while 28 percent leaned Republican. Republican respondents were less inclined to be critical of the American government — 39 percent said the government was “wasteful and inefficient,” compared with 50 percent of Democrats. The survey, however, found that young people overall were a little hazy about the Republican Party itself: 53 percent, for example, did not know that Republicans were considered “the more conservative party.”

“That’s our challenge. We send representatives to spread the conservative message on campus. The Democrats do not. That’s because they have full-time recruiters in every classroom. They’re called college professors,” said Paul Gourley, chairman of the District-based College Republican National Committee.

More than two-thirds of Hispanic respondents said they were “disengaged” from politics and civic activities, the highest percentage in the survey. But 25 percent had also been in protest marches, “more than double the rate of any racial/ethnic group.”

Meanwhile, young people appear to be less accepting of homosexuality and immigration. The poll found 53 percent said homosexuality should be accepted; the figure was 60 percent when the poll was last taken in 2002. Asked if immigrants “strengthen our country,” 57 percent agreed. Four years ago, the figure stood at 60 percent.

“Gay marriage and illegal immigration have been big news lately,” Mr. Levine said. “Maybe that helped respondents clarify their opinions.”

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