Students losing faith in political engagement, study finds

College students, like other Americans, are giving President Bush the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, according to a study by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.

The study, which surveyed about 1,200 college students across the country, found that students are less likely than they were a year ago to believe that “political engagement is an effective way to solve problems.”

Only 11 percent of students surveyed said they trust the president to do the right thing all of the time, down from 22 percent in last year’s study.

Caitlin Monahan, the student co-chair of the study, said she was surprised that many students disapproved of the president’s performance in office.

“After Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq, college students were more supportive of the president than the general population,” she said, “but now they are with the rest of the country.”

Students are also skeptical about the motivations and priorities of today’s elected officials; 70 percent agreed with the statement that politicians are “motivated by selfish reasons.” The same percentage said that elected officials do not have the same priorities as they do.

But nine in 10 college students still believe that serving as an elected official is an “honorable” thing to do. 16 percent reported having worked on a campaign themselves.

The study also found that 62 percent of college students believe the United States should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq – nine percentage points more than the general public supporting immediate withdrawal.

College students also believe that wearing a wristband, signing an online petition, writing or forwarding an e-mail in support of a political cause, or boycotting particular companies constitutes as a “political act” in the 21st century, with almost half of them considering themselves to be politically active.

“These are some very surprising, new types of activism; very silent, individual activism, but activism nonetheless,” Monahan said.

Students value community service; 67 percent said they had volunteered in their communities within the past year, and 81 percent said they view volunteering as an effective way to solve important issues – a contingent that has remained consistently strong over the last five years the study was conducted.

College students follow national political news and use conventional news sources more than generally perceived, the study found.

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