protest, now and then

A reporter recently asked me how much protest and other activism is going on among today’s youth, compared to their predecessors during the Vietnam era.

In 1973, the General Social Survey asked about five specific forms of protest (prowar, antiwar, civil rights, labor-related strikes, and school events). About 28 percent of the young people in that survey (ages 18-25) said they had participated in one or more of those types of protest.

In 2006, we found that 11.5% of 15-25-year-olds had attended any protest, march, or demonstration (regardless of topic).

Given the different questions, the comparison is not perfect. Still, these results suggest some decline in the rate of physical protest by young people. That trend has to be set against a lot of volunteering and online activism, which Jennifer Earl described recently in the Washington Post. (Her article was entitled, “Where Have All the Protests Gone? Online.”) In our 2006 survey, 15% of the young respondents said they had signed email petitions–less than the 21% rate among older Americans, but still a large number. And if we added other formats, such as social networking sites, we would see even more online activism.