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Poll: Gen Z Is Plenty Engaged

January 12, 2018 GMT

A poll of area college students rebuts the stereotype that Generation Z is detached and self-absorbed and shows they are engaged and informed on current events, the director of a local think tank said. “We feel very good about this generation, and it’s important for people to know that,” said Teri Ooms, director of the Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development at Wilkes University. In the spring and fall, the think tank polls full- and part-time students of all class years, majors, and in graduate programs from 12 institutions of higher education in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties on a variety of issues. Results from the 2017 fall poll were released Thursday. The institute performs the annual polls to track “students’ emphasis on the issues, what they think is most important, and are they civically active, are they voting,” said Ooms. The fall poll asks students — most of whom are typically considered Generation Z and between the ages of 18 and 22 — about public policy issues and their level of civic engagement. Of the 1,995 students polled, 2 percent more were Democrat-affiliated voters than Republican; 8 percent were unsure of their affiliation. The survey found that the students think the United States is moving in the wrong direction. It also found that, while they are tuned in to national issues, they are less informed about statewide issues. More than 75 percent of those polled are registered to vote, and more than 50 percent responded they would likely vote in the November election. The study also found that students care more about environmental policy and less about taxes, jobs, the economy and efficiency of government. The cost of college education ranked highest in the category of personal importance of public policy issues, with health care coming in second. Around 90 percent of students reported they felt very or somewhat informed about current events. The poll also found their primary sources of information are websites and blogs, television (not for news), social media and word of mouth. Students’ use of television, newspapers and radio to learn about current events is declining. More than 80 percent of the students polled responded they have some level of experience volunteering for an off-campus nonprofit organization. Fewer than 20 percent volunteered for a political cause or candidate. Representatives from local colleges are seeing that engagement. At Penn State Worthington Scranton, Brad Kovaleski, the director of student services and engagement, said students recently came into his office to start a group to encourage civic engagement and political involvement among students. “With our campus being a nonresidential commuter campus, they’re going to live in the area most likely, so getting them involved early will help them make changes now,” he said. The University of Scranton started a Bursting our Political Bubbles initiative with other area colleges to engage students with different political views and perceptions in open and constructive dialogue, said Julie Schumacher Cohen, the director of community and government relations. Sixty students attended the first workshop and, of those students, 84 percent said they would participate again in the initiative, said Cohen. Students at the university also spend 175,000 hours a year performing community service. Alysse Machalek, a sophomore at the University of Scranton, said she feels politically informed. “I agree that college students are more engaged than society thinks they are,” Machalek said. “They might not like the kind of things that we think politically, so they just think we’re uneducated.” To stay informed, Machalek uses a combination of television news, social media and tabloids, she said. “People seem to think they are detached, they’re not engaged, they’re more self-absorbed and into technology and living for the moment,” Ooms said of the generation. “And I think what the findings of this poll shows is that this group of young adults is engaged. They know what’s important to them and they’re keeping up on current events.” To read the results, visit www.institutepa.org. FRANK WILKES LESNEFSKY, staff writer, contributed to this report. Contact the writer: kbolus@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5114; @kbolusTT on Twitter