Today’s youngest group of Americans, often called the “Millennial Generation,” is the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort in American history. Their education and personal experiences are also incredibly diverse – some attend world-class universities while others attend high schools with dropout rates well above fifty percent.
So it is no surprise that they differ greatly in their levels and types of civic engagement. Any generalizations about “youth voter turnout” or “young people’s volunteering rates” conceal crucial differences.
A recent CIRCLE study “Understanding a Diverse Generation: Youth Civic Engagement in the United States,” explores those differences and has implications for how youth-focused organizations can better work to reduce the number of disengaged young people.
Using U.S. Census data, CIRCLE compares youth engagement in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. Despite the over-simplified portrayal of young Americans in the news media, their political engagement is diverse. The study shows that at least three quarters of youth were somehow engaged in their community or in politics in both 2008 and 2010. But they engaged in very different ways. The key finding of the study is that young Americans were divided into six distinct patterns of engagement in recent years.
In 2010, the clusters were:
- The Broadly Engaged (21% of youth) fill many different leadership roles
- The Political Specialists (18%) are focused on voting and other forms of political activism
- The Donors (11%) give money but do little else
- The Under-Mobilized (14%) were registered to vote in 2010 but did not actually vote or participate actively
- The Talkers (13%) report discussing political issues and are avid communicators online, but do not take action otherwise
- The Civically Alienated (23%) hardly engage at all
The full report can be read on CIRCLE’s website.
Tisch College’s CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement) is the leading source of authoritative research on civic and political engagement of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25.
Originally published December 2011