Friday, November 18, 2005

"Like Most Americans, College Students Rate President..."

To: National Desk

Contact: Esten Perez of Harvard University's Institute of Politics, 617-496-4009

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 /U.S. Newswire/ -- A new national poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, finds that students -- like other Americans -- rate President George W. Bush at the lowest point in his presidency, and believe in record numbers that the country is off on the wrong track. With their mood souring, 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 pessimism, nine in ten college students believe that serving as an elected official is an "honorable" thing to do.

In addition, the poll reveals that college students believe 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" in the 21st century. New avenues of political involvement with a "technological twist" represent new ways that students are getting involved in politics that are completely foreign to their parents and grandparents. What's more, 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.

"In the 2004 elections, we saw the strongest voter turnout by 18-24 year-olds in over a decade. This showed when candidates and political parties engage young people, they go to the polls." said IOP Director Jeanne Shaheen. "Given current events and the current political climate, it is 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 and nearly half report being politically involved - making this voting constituency a critical one to court in future elections."

The survey of 1204 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. As recent national polls show Americans giving President Bush near historic low approval ratings below forty percent (40 percent), only forty-one percent (41 percent) of college students say they approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as President, down six points from just seven months ago. What's more, only eleven percent (11 percent) say they trust the President to do the right thing all of the time, down from twenty-two percent (22 percent) from Fall 2001 IOP polling. Fifty-two percent (52 percent) of college students said they trust the United Nations to do the right thing all or most of the time, while only thirty-nine percent (39 percent) said the same about the President.

-- A strong majority of college students find great honor in running for office and in public life... Ninety-one percent (91 percent) of college students believe that running for office is an honorable thing to do, and ninety-three percent (93 percent) feel that being an elected official is also honorable.

--...however, students are more skeptical about the motivations and priorities of today's elected officials and are turned off by the current state of political discourse in Washington. Nearly one-in-four college students think the ethical conduct of Members of Congress has declined in recent years. Seventy percent (70 percent) of college students believe that elected officials today seem to be motivated by selfish reasons, up twelve points from a year ago, and the same percentage of college students also feel that elected officials don't seem to have the same priorities that they do. Whereas sixty percent (60 percent) of college students said they trusted the federal government all or most of the time in fall 2001, only forty-four percent (44 percent) said they feel the same way today. Seventy-two percent (72 percent) of college students also believe politics today has become too partisan, and sixty-four percent (64 percent) believe the political tone in Washington, D.C. is too negative.

-- As a function of the current political climate, college students are not as confident about the effectiveness of political engagement today, and are more hesitant to get involved in politics than they were a year ago. While ninety percent (90 percent) of college students said political engagement is an effective way to solve problems facing the country in the fall of 2004, only eighty-two percent (82 percent) feel the same way today. 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 (87 percent) of college students today say they need more practical information about politics before they can get involved, up twenty-two percentage points since last fall.

-- They continue to feel the country is off on the wrong track rather than headed in the right direction, as support is seen for troop withdrawals from Iraq to begin. Following a recent trend, more students continue to feel the country is off on the "wrong track" rather than headed in the right direction. Fifty-eight percent (58 percent - up thirteen points from fall 2004 IOP polling) believe the country is on the "wrong track," while just thirty-five percent (35 percent) believe the country is headed in the "right direction," a sentiment also seen among the general public (59 percent "wrong track," 28 percent "right direction" - NBC/WSJ 10/08/05). On the issue of what the U.S. should do about the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, sixty-two percent (62 percent) of college students believe our country should withdraw some or all of our troops from Iraq, nine points higher than the general public (CNN/USA TODAY 8/05).

-- A new, politically active generation is developing a new definition of what it means to be "political" in the 21st century. Almost half (48 percent) of today's college students consider themselves to be politically engaged or active. Whereas their parents used protests, marches, concerts, and sit-ins as a means of making their voices heard, and their grandparents joined a union or a political party, today's generation are utilizing technology, marketing, and networking to further their political agenda. Twenty-two percent (22 percent) of college students said they had worn a wristband to show support for a political issue or cause, while just over one-third (36 percent) said they had signed an online petition and just under one-third (30 percent) said they had written an email or letter advocating a position. Eighteen percent (18 percent) said that they had contributed to a political blog as well.

-- While attitudes toward political figures and efficacy may change, this generation's commitment to community stays strong. Sixty-seven percent (67 percent) of college students reported volunteering in the community within the past year, with seventy- three percent (73 percent) of those saying they did so at least once a month. What's more, more than four in five students (81 percent) said they viewed community volunteerism as an effective way to solve important issues facing the country -- a proportion that has remained strong and largely unchanged during IOP polling over the past five years.

-- College students are on top of national political news, and use conventional news sources more than generally perceived. Sixty-eight percent (68 percent) of college students say they are following national political news closely, just slightly less than the general population (76 percent - Gallup 9/12-15/05). While college students said they turn to alternative news sources "regularly" or "sometimes" like Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (42 percent) and blogs (34 percent), they reported using national network TV news (79 percent), cable TV news (75 percent), and major national newspapers either online (43 percent) or in print (43 percent) with as much or even more regularity.

Harvard students designed the poll, in consultation with David King, lecturer in public policy, and pollster John Della Volpe, whose firm Prime Group, LLC conducted the survey and analyzed the data. Complete results and past surveys are available online at http://www.iop.harvard.edu

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Harvard University's Institute of Politics, located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, was established in 1966 with an endowment from the John F. Kennedy Library Corporation to engage young people in politics and public service. The Institute has been conducting national political polls of America's college students since 2000.

http://www.usnewswire.com/

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/© 2005 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/

http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=56801

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