George Washington University sits at the top of U.S. schools deemed “Most Politically Active Students” in 2016.
But students at GW aren’t convinced.
VOA asked several students about how politically active they were on a scale of 1-to-10. And none of the students put themselves higher than a six on that scale.
VOA also asked the students to describe the presidential election in one word.
The Princeton Review created the list of schools they say have high numbers of politically active students. The Princeton Review is an organization and publication that ranks U.S. colleges and universities each year in a book called “The Best 380 Colleges.” (It is not affiliated with Princeton University, which typically ranks in the Top 3 on college-ranking lists.)
The Princeton Review surveys more than 136,000 students at 380 schools. The organization told VOA that the list of politically active schools is based on one question: “Student-run political groups have an active presence on campus.“
The possible responses are “strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree or disagree, agree or strongly agree.”
Regan McAllister, 19, is a first-year student of international affairs and Asian studies at George Washington University, or GW. From Niceville, Florida, but having lived internationally most of her life, McAllister says the reason politics are important at GW is the location: Washington, D.C.
“Just being right by the White House and the Capitol and everything. Our professors and the students are constantly hearing about the news. And it kind of hard not to, because it’s right where we live. … People with interests in politics come to GW to be among it all.”
McAllister first started following politics when she studied in Turkey in 2015 before coming to GW.
“There was a big election that happened in June. Leading up to that election was when I really got into it and it was mostly Turkish politics at the time. I learned a lot about it and so that just kind of carried over when I came to college.”
The political activity of young people can be hard to predict. For example, college-educated young people vote differently from young people who never attend college.
Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg is the director for the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, at Tufts University in Massachusetts. The organization studies the political activity of people younger than 30.
Kawashima-Ginsberg says college-educated young people are twice as likely to vote in primary elections as those with no college experience.
She says the 2008 campaign that elected President Barack Obama broke a 30-year record in numbers of young people involved. The 2012 campaign also had high numbers of young voters. But, she added, young people lately have trouble feeling connected to politics.
“We were hearing both from young people who are in college and out of college about how they perceive voting. For them, it was starting to become this old, outdated thing that has no relevance or impact. And that showed, truly, in voting statistics, where we recorded the lowest youth turnout ever in 2014.”
Young people are not alone in low turnout. FairVote — an organization that studies U.S. democracy and elections — reported only about 36 percent of the entire voting population voted in the 2014 midterm election.
Nancy Thomas is the director of the Institute for Democracy and Education, also at Tufts University. The institute runs a project called the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, or NSLVE. Researchers studied the voting habits of U.S. college students from 2012 and 2014.
Thomas says there are more college students now who are older than 30. And studies of young people produce different results than studies that only look at college students.
Student movements like the Black Lives Matter protests show college campuses are important places for political activity, she said.
Thomas adds that schools where politics are frequently discussed in class have the most politically active students. If professors use political examples in any subject, including math or history, students will see how important politics are.
Hanna Corn, 20, is a second-year student studying international affairs and political science at GW. Originally from Wilmington, New Jersey, Corn is also the membership director of the GW College Democrats.
Corn says political student groups and political discussion are everywhere at GW.
“Students would be talking about it in line to get their food at cafeterias. You’d be in the library and you’d look over at people laughing and they’d be watching a political talk show. Even at a social gathering, people are discussing politics. … Even when you don’t want to hear about it, it will be right outside your door… So you might as well reach out and also engage in it.”
Corn says she has also learned a lot about people with opinions different from her own. She frequently talks and debates with members of the GW College Republicans.
“We share an office actually , so we are constantly exchanging ideas. … It’s good to learn both sides. … But I think it’s very difficult to be a strident conservative or Republican at our campus because the Republicans even I know are not so far to the right.
“People that are more conservative don’t speak out. … But I think that there are more of them in our campus than you realize.”
VOA reached out to the GW College Republicans but received no response.
Both Thomas and Kawashima-Ginsberg agree there is an increasing number of young Republicans voting in this primary. But Thomas says young Republicans care about different issues than older party members. Older members care more about terrorism, while young members care more about government spending.
Both younger and older Democrats seem to care about the same issues, she says. But fewer young people are joining any political party at all.
Kawashima-Ginsberg points out that technology plays a major role in how young people choose to be involved.
“Social media’s played a bigger role in this age. In a way, young people are able to organize themselves online with their like-minded peers and start some action or cause… without being told what might be helpful for a candidate or what they’re supposed to do for the campaign.”
Thomas says that students entering the field of education vote more than any other group. Students studying math and science vote the least. Also, African-American students vote more than white, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American students.