Survey Shows Students Believe Politics Too Complicated, AP

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Survey shows students believe politics too complicated

Associated Press (Text as it appeared in Richmond Times-Dispatch online edition)

Thursday, October 30, 2003

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Voting is important, according to high school students responding to a survey, but more than half - 53 percent - said they believe politics is too complicated for ordinary people.

Most of the 1,009 students across Virginia surveyed by the University of Virginia's Center for Politics could not name Virginia's two U.S. senators. The survey results, released Wednesday, showed that only 25.7 percent were able to name George Allen as a senator, and 36.4 percent could name John Warner.

"This is just more proof" that young people are not being prepared for full participation in the political and electoral process, said Larry J. Sabato, director of the center.

"We need to fix it and fast," Sabato said. "It's a failure of both the schools and the family. It's a shared responsibility to teach young people about civics."

Sabato noted that young people aren't the only ones who don't know who their political leaders are.

"Forty percent of Americans don't know who the vice president is," he said. "You can like Dick Cheney or you can not like him, but you'd better know who he is."

Sabato said his center is developing programs for designing a civics education in schools and beyond, and its Youth Leadership Initiative is now in 55 percent of the high schools in Virginia.

"If we don't act quickly, we lose another generation," Sabato said. "What happens? People don't vote, or they don't vote intelligently."

Of the students over 18 responding to the survey, only 49.5 percent were registered to vote.

Only 48 percent of the students said they knew how to make their political views known, and 45 percent said they felt well-prepared to participate in politics and elections.

Virginia's young people want to be optimistic about politics, said Ken Stroupe, chief of staff at the Center for Politics. "But, their lack of encouragement, as well as their perception of some of the behaviors and motivations of politicians, play a significant role in suppressing their overall interest and involvement."

Other survey findings:

  • 13 percent have worked for a political party or candidate, while 77 percent say they are unlikely to ever do so;

  • 25 percent have contacted an elected official or agency in the federal government;

  • 35 percent have, at some point, joined a group to solve a community problem;

  • 41 percent have encouraged an adult to register to vote.