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Panetta Institute Survey Finds Students Are Disappointed with the State of the Country – Monterey Herald

74% of the 803 students surveyed said they felt uncertain and concerned about the country’s future, a slight decline from 2023 (courtesy of Panetta Public Policy Institute)

A new study by the Panetta Public Policy Institute shows that college students continue to lose faith in government.

The 24th Youth Civic Engagement Survey found that student confidence in leadership and hopes for the country’s future continue to reach historic lows, with 71% of students saying the country is on the wrong track.

“I think (the results) reflect a lot of frustration among the American people,” said Leon Panetta, the institute’s president and former defense secretary. “There are concerns about dysfunction in Washington, (students) are not interested in presidential candidates and just generally feel like the country is going down the wrong path.”

Panetta and his wife Sylvia founded the institute in 1997, which serves the entire CSU system and is located on the Cal State Monterey Bay campus. The Institute offers students a variety of opportunities to study and work in government and public policy.

The Institute also hosts the annual Panetta Lecture Series, where political leaders and policy experts discuss current national and international events. This year’s series focused on challenges to democracy.

The Institute commissions this study from Hart Research each year to aid in the development of the Institute’s curriculum. This year, Hart Research conducted online interviews with 803 students at four-year colleges across the country from May 3-12.

In the wake of protests on campuses across the country against the Israel-Hamas war, this year’s survey provided unique insight into students’ positions on international affairs.

According to the survey, 33% of students said that universities were not doing enough to protect students who felt threatened by the protests, and 30% believed that universities were not doing enough to protect free speech on campuses.

“The protests reflected a lot of what we see in the numbers in our survey, which is that students are obviously not happy with the war in the Middle East, but they are also not happy at all with the direction of the government,” Panetta said.

46% of students now believe that the problems facing their generation will be international, an increase of 7% on last year’s survey. About half of the students surveyed said the country should engage in foreign affairs but should not take a “leadership role.”

Regarding this year’s presidential election, Panetta said he is “concerned about this because polls show that we have the lowest voter turnout that we have ever seen, and, frankly, the youth vote was very important” in electing the right people to run. position.”

Only 54% of students say they are likely to vote in this year’s presidential election. Compared to 2020, more students say they are unlikely to get involved in the campaign. (Courtesy of Panetta Public Policy Institute)

The poll shows students’ approval of President Biden has dropped to 40%, down from 71% in 2021. Biden’s personal approval ratings are slightly higher than Republican candidate Donald Trump, whose approval ratings are 28% favorable and 61% unfavorable.

Biden’s lead over Trump has also declined by 16 points since 2020 and now shows the president leading among college students by 51%. However, the poll shows that 34% of students think Trump is better at handling the national debt and 41% think Trump would be better at handling the economy, an issue that students are widely concerned about.

According to the survey, the most important issues for students were the cost of living (44%) and the economy (43%). Health care, college affordability, abortion and climate change were also important to students.

“When we put all this together, it sends a message to our elected leaders that they must do more to solve these problems,” Panetta said.

According to Panetta, there may still be changes in the next six months before the elections aimed at increasing voter turnout.

“The debates could tell us a lot about the candidates. If we can achieve a ceasefire in the Middle East that will hopefully bring the hostages home and make a real end to this war, if inflation continues to fall… these things could impact young people’s awareness of their responsibility to our democracy, so that she can participate in it,” Panetta said

The survey found that student use of artificial intelligence increased by 14 points compared to last year’s survey, with 74% of students reporting that they currently used a chatbot.

Panetta said this increase tells him that “(students) are well ahead of the general public in trying to determine whether AI is helpful. “I’m afraid there’s still a lot of concern about the accuracy of AI.”

“Part of me hopes that eventually (students) will realize that their voice is essential to what happens with our democracy. I hope this is not a lost generation,” Panetta said. “I hope that eventually everyone, including the rest of the country, will realize that our democracy is in trouble. “It’s not encouraging, but at the same time it’s a message we need to listen to.”