It’s an anecdotal truth we’ve been throwing around quite a lot lately, but the survey proves the very clear reality that the newest generation of adults is checking the “unaffiliated” box at a rate of one in four.
But young adults aren’t just showing apathy for religion—it’s politics as well.
Six in ten college-age adults are registered to vote, but only half say they plan to vote in the 2012 election. The Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs conducted the survey and plan to follow up with an additional wave in the fall, so the numbers could change as we near the presidential election.
But one thing is clear—this is a group of people that is generally uninterested in the political process as it exists. One in four could not offer an opinion of Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Half say they approve of how President Barack Obama is performing, while 42 percent disapprove
When offering their opinions on a 100-point scale of various political groups like the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, the federal government in Washington, and labor unions, each scored within the range of 41-54—denoting a general “meh” attitude.
Robert Jones, CEO and founder of PRRI, said it will be difficult to get this group excited about either candidate.
“Both the Obama and Romney campaigns have their work cut out for them in reaching this group,” he said.
While Democratic millennials tend to be more excited about Obama as a candidate than their counterparts in the pro-Republican camp are about Romney (he only narrowly beat out Ron Paul and “Other”), Obama only holds a 7-point lead overall over a generic Republican candidate.
For a group that largely identifies as Independent (45 percent), neither of the candidates seems all that appealing.
Unaffiliated. Independent. Politically apathetic.
But this group isn’t apathetic about public policy issues.
Much like the rest of the country, an overwhelming majority (76 percent) of young millennials say that jobs and unemployment is a critical issue facing the country. Over half say that both the deficit and education are critical. They’re concerned about the growing gap between the rich and poor.
While they may not be excited about a particular candidate—and may be disillusioned by the general state of politics in the U.S.—they care about the issues.
They care about the rights of immigrants and of same-sex couples. They care about the environment and protecting it for the future. They care about inclusion and fostering community.
Before we dismiss the youngest voting bloc, we should engage them on the issues they care about. And before young adults dismiss their vote as worthless, they should investigate the stance each politician takes on the issues they hold dear.
In our current political system, no one candidate will win every battle on your behalf. But by engaging in conversation on matters that affect the common good, we can build a better public discourse and a more informed electorate.
Sandi Villarreal is Associate Web Editor for Sojourners. Follow her on Twitter @Sandi.
Voting illustration, Vepar5/Shutterstock.com