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May 12, 2000 Contact: Melissa Ring (617) 496-9761

Election Apathy Pervasive Among Young Adults

Voter Involvement Index Survey Methodology

Political apathy among today's young people is widely acknowledged, so it is no surprise that young adults have been less attentive to the 2000 presidential campaign than older people. What is perhaps less widely known is that political apathy characterizes young people in nearly every demographic category. And what has not been widely noted is that young people are less responsive to the stimulus of campaign events.

Since early November, the Shorenstein Center has been conducting weekly national polls designed to measure public attention to the campaign. During the average week in this six-month period, nearly half (46%) of adults under 30 claimed to be paying no attention at all to the campaign and a quarter said they were paying "only a little" attention. Only 4% said they were paying "a great deal" of attention and 8% claimed to be giving the campaign "quite a bit" of attention. Among adults 30 years of age and older, nearly twice as many (22%) were paying "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of attention.

  Voter Involvement Index
May 3-7 18%
Apr. 26-30 18%
Apr. 18-22 20%
Apr. 12-16 19%
Apr. 5-9 22%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±6%

The great disparity between young and old cuts across all demographic groups. In fact, no group of young people attained even the average attention level of older adults. College graduates came the closest: 19% of those under 30 years of age claimed to be paying relatively close attention to the campaign during the typical week.

Young people are also less responsive to the stimulus of the campaign. During the period between the Iowa caucuses and Super Tuesday, when the campaign was most intense, the number of older adults paying relatively close attention rose by 22 percentage points. Among adults under 30, the rise was only 16 percentage points, even though their attention level before Iowa was far lower.

Some observers believe the Internet will be the stimulus to greater campaign participation by young people. The early evidence is not encouraging. The Shorenstein Center polls indicate that young people are no more likely than older adults to engage the campaign through the Internet despite the fact that they make substantially greater use of the Internet for other purposes. "Political apathy among today's young people runs deep," says Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project, which conducts the Shorenstein Center weekly poll. "Technology alone won't overcome it."

The results reported here are from nationwide telephone surveys of approximately 1,000 adults conducted November 14, 1999 May 7, 2000. The surveys have a sampling error of ±3%. The Vanishing Voter Project is a study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Funding for the project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project is co-directed by Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, and by Marvin Kalb, Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's office in Washington.

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