Campus & Community

Poll: College students skeptical about politics

3 min read

Yet majority still view public service as honorable

A new national poll by the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics (IOP) finds that college students think that President George W. Bush is at the lowest point in his presidency, and believe in record numbers that the country is on the wrong track.

The poll also shows college students are less likely today to believe political engagement is an effective way to solve problems, and they are more skeptical of elected officials and the political process than they were just a year ago. Despite their apparent pessimism, however, nine in 10 college students believe that serving as an elected official is an honorable thing to do.

In addition, the poll reveals that college students believe that merely wearing a wristband, signing an online petition, writing or forwarding an e-mail in support of a political cause, or boycotting particular stores or companies constitutes a political act.

Even though their attitudes about politics may fluctuate from year to year, more than four in five college students feel community volunteerism is an effective way to solve our country’s problems – a finding that has remained largely unchanged throughout five years of IOP polling.

The 2004 elections saw the strongest voter turnout by 18- to 24-year-olds in over a decade, showing that when candidates and political parties engage young people, they go to the polls, said IOP Director Jeanne Shaheen.

The survey of 1,204 college students, drawn randomly from a national database of nearly 5.1 million students, finds:

  • College students, tracking with other Americans, give President Bush an all-time low approval rating, with 41 percent saying that they approve of the job he is doing as president, down six points from seven months ago.
  • Ninety-one percent of college students believe that running for office is an honorable thing to do, and 93 percent feel that being an elected official is also honorable.
  • Seventy percent of college students believe that elected officials today seem to be motivated by selfish reasons, up 12 points from a year ago.
  • While 90 percent of college students said political engagement is an effective way to solve problems facing the country in the fall of 2004, only 82 percent said so in the current poll.
  • One in four college students believe they don’t have any say about what the government does, up seven points from a year ago. Eighty-seven percent of college students today say they need more practical information about politics before they can get involved, up 22 percentage points since last fall.