University students overwhelmingly prefer to join campus organisations that are issue-based rather than those that are traditional political party-based, according to new study from the United States.

“For traditional political parties, the research … shows that old-style electioneering activities and organisations are not resonating with today’s students,” says the Campus Labs Data In Action Series study, Student Engagement as a Political Catalyst.

“If our data highlights anything, it is that students show preference to join organisations based on issues of personal interest and concern as opposed to larger, national party organisations focused more on getting individuals or parties elected to office,” writes the report author Will Miller.

“By focusing on issues, students are able to join with like-minded individuals to pursue gains in an area of personal interest,” he adds.

The study aggregated student organisation data dating between Autumn 2013 and Spring 2018 semesters.

It included primarily four-year institutions ranging from small, career schools, private liberal arts colleges, and “state flagship institutions”, with enrolments ranging from a few hundred students to more than 50,000.

Some 93,920 student organisations were examined, revealing 3,184 party-based student organisations as opposed to 13,741 issues-based organisations.

Data was used from 397 institutions across the country, representing 46 states.


Seeking to influence the life of a community

The study defines civic engagement as “activities undertaken by an individual or group focused on developing knowledge about a community and political system, identifying solutions 
to problems, pursuing goals to benefit the community at large, and participating in constructive deliberation”.

“It means actively participating in and seeking to influence the life of a community, whether motivations emanate from self-interest, moral principles, altruistic concerns, political viewpoints or any combination thereof.”

The author notes that going just by name, “some student organisations may
 not seem to be civic- or issue-based yet may actually instil these values within
 their members. For example, a Surf Club at a four-year private institution sought to ‘explore the environmental protections of the world’s oceans and importance of beach conservation while still having the ability to enjoy the activity of surfing’.”

Political engagement includes “a wide range of activities, such as collecting and disseminating information; voting; working voter registration drives; designing, distributing or signing petitions; participating in civic and political associations; attending public meetings, rallies or protests; and entering into public or private discussions of community and political issues via various formats”.


Political activity on campus

The author notes, however, that much political activity on campus “can happen outside of formally recognised organisations” meaning the data “represents a minimum for student participation on campus”.

Within identified party-based groups, more than 60 per cent were affiliated with Democrats – compared with slightly less than 20 per cent mapping to Republicans.

Miller says that while it is “not surprising to find that a majority of student memberships are in Democratic-based organisations” what is striking is that there has been a steady decrease since Autumn 2015.

“It is also important to note that there is no uptick in other liberal-minded party groups on campus, suggesting as students withdrew from party-based groups they either moved to issue-based groups or did not formally participate on campus.”

Access the report in full here


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