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Civic Education Increases Young People's Interest
in American Government, Study Shows


September 23, 2003
Tuesday - 1:00 am

More young Americans know the name of the reigning American Idol and the city where the cartoon Simpsons live than know the political party of their state's governor.

That's one of the more troubling findings detailed in the new report, "Citizenship: A Challenge for All Generations," released Monday by the Representative Democracy in America Project, at the first Congressional Conference on Civic Education in Washington, D.C. The report is based on the results of a national survey, which found that 15- to 26-year-olds don't understand the ideals of citizenship; they are disengaged from the political process; they lack the knowledge necessary for effective self-government; and they have limited appreciation of American democracy.

The poll was conducted by Knowledge Networks, an Internet-based research firm that interviewed a random sample of 632 respondents in the 15-26 age group and 654 in the over-26 age group. The sampling error for each of the age groups is plus/minus 4 percent.

It's clear, based on these and other findings, that policymakers and teachers must devote new energy to civic education. The report presents evidence that courses in civics and government pique young people's interest in and aid their understanding of the American system.

The study shows that:

  • Only 66 percent of members of this younger generation believe it's necessary to vote in order to be a good citizen, compared with 83 percent of Americans over age 26.
  • Half of those 18 to 26 claim to have voted in the last election, compared with three-fourths of those over 26.
  • Half of those 26 or younger regularly or sometimes follow government news, and believe you should, in order to be a good citizen, compared with three-fourths of those over 26.
  • Eighty percent of those 26 or younger know Ruben Studdard won the last American Idol competition. But fewer than half of the members of the younger generation know the party of their state's governor.

In addition, the study found that:

  • Members of the younger generation who have taken a course in American government or civics are more likely to see themselves as personally responsible for improving society, and they have a broader concept of the qualities of a good citizen. For example, 71 percent of teens and adults in their early 20s who have taken a government course believe voting is a necessary component of good citizenship, compared with 57 percent of those who have not taken civics.
  • Two out of five Americans between 15 and 26 years old who have taken a civics class say their interest in government increased as a result.
  • Young people who have taken a civics course are two to three times more likely to vote, follow government news and contact a public official about an issue that concerns them.

Today, 39 states require a course in civics or government before high school graduation. Sixty-four percent of young respondents to the project's survey said they had taken such a course. But the report results show more must be done.

"This is a pivotal time in our country's history," said Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens, who is president of NCSL. "We can't let apathy and ignorance become the status quo. I challenge all states to examine their civic education requirements, to make sure their schools are turning out informed citizens who don't take for granted the freedoms America provides."




Citizenship: A Challenge for All Generations



The Representative Democracy in America Project is a collaboration among NCSL's Trust for Representative Democracy, the Center on Congress at Indiana University and the Center for Civic Education. The project is designed to reinvigorate and educate Americans on the critical relationship between government and the people it serves. The project introduces citizens, particularly young people, to the representatives, institutions, and processes that serve to realize the goal of a government of, by, and for the people.

Source of News Release:

National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
Web Site


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