Intriguing evidence indicates today's college students may be a potent political force in next year's election and beyond.
"Campus kids, the political offspring of soccer moms and office park dads, could be the tipping point in 2004," argues Dan Glickman, director of Harvard University's Institute of Politics, referring to the 9 million people age 18 to 24 now attending college and university. Earlier this month, his institute completed a survey of political views on campuses and found reasons for both hope and concern.
Defying conventional wisdom, the institute survey found that students are not largely a group of left-leaning political slackers. When asked for party affiliation, 38 percent called themselves independent, 31 percent Republican, and 27 percent Democrats. Four out of five say they will vote in the next election.
This youthful group also presents some contradictions. On the one hand, 61 percent approve of the president's performance, about 10 percent higher than the general public. On the other hand, nearly 90 percent say the Bush administration has been "hiding some things" or "mostly not telling the truth" when it comes to dealing with Iraq.
Nearly 90 percent say they consider themselves patriotic. But, perhaps reflecting their concerns about developments in Iraq, a third of the men and nearly 60 percent of the women said they would avoid a draft if one were reinstated to fight the war on terrorism.
Whatever the challenges one might see in students' attitudes, their encouraging faith in the political process needs to be nurtured. Two-thirds of them say political involvement can show tangible results, up 17 percent from a similar poll taken in 2000. More than six out of 10 expect to be more politically involved than their parents.
It will be a blessing for the country if they follow through on that goal.