World events spark interest in politics

by Jens Krogstad

An annual UCLA study released last month shows interest in politics among first-year college students is rebounding after decades of decline.

The number of first-year students that indicated keeping up with politics is a “very important” or “essential” life goal has increased to 32.9 percent. This number is significantly down from the 1966 high of 60.9 percent. The all-time low was in 2000 when 28.1 percent of students replied in kind.

Many political science experts say the results are expected, considering the events in recent years, most notably the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

UCLA political science professor Martin Gilens said the Sept. 11 attacks, the conflict with Iraq and the 2000 U.S. presidential election are likely reasons for students’ piqued interest in politics.

University political science assistant professor Jamie Druckman agreed.

“This is not surprising, given events since 9/11. Many trends have changed since then, including trust in government and (President George W. Bush’s) approval,” Druckman said.

University political science professor Bill Flanigan said the higher percentage of students interested in politics three decades ago might have resulted from a less diverse group of people enrolled in college, who held similar beliefs and interests.

Most students said current events spurred their interest in politics and that the possible war with Iraq and the state’s higher education funding cuts give politics an added relevance.

“Politics is a hotter topic now after Sept. 11, and with the war that might be starting in Iraq – it affects people our age,” said John Lutz, a first-year mechanical engineering student.

First-year student Nicole Nagell said politics are discussed more now because “we’re dealing with things we’ve never had to deal with before.”

Some students said while they are interested in politics, it is harder to keep track of current events now that they are in college.

“I paid a lot more attention to news in high school because I had more access to news media,” first-year student Vince Holmberg said. “Here at the ‘U,’ it’s more isolated from the outside world.”

Yvette Grabau, a first-year chemical engineering student, agreed.

“I feel really sheltered as to what’s going on. Now my mom has to call me and tell me when something happens,” she said.

Although many students are showing interest in politics, the study suggests students’ interest in politics either vacillates or was never there to begin with.

Rachael Haave, a first-year dance student, said, “I haven’t noticed much difference (in people’s political awareness), but I’m not very big into politics.”

Jens Krogstad welcomes comments at [email protected]