Press Releases

Mills College Professor Joseph Kahne Authors New Study
on Digital Media

Oakland, CA–June 26, 2012 A new study entitled, Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action, was released today by professors at Mills College and the University of Chicago. Under the direction of co-principal investigators Joseph Kahne, education professor at Mills College and chair of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, and Cathy J. Cohen of the University of Chicago, the study examines the impact of new media on the political and civic behavior of American youth.

The research was conducted online and via telephone from February to July 2011 with a representative sample of 3,000 American youth aged 15–25. The comprehensive national study on youth, new media, and political action is particularly timely, providing a wealth of data and insights relevant to both the long-term political picture in America and to the upcoming 2012 election. It is the first time hard data has been available to explore the impact of new media on political and civic behavior of young people in America.

In the last election, four years ago, social media proved to be a key factor in driving the youth and minority vote. This new study examines how substantial numbers of young people are now engaging in what the study’s principal investigators call “participatory politics”—acts such as starting a new political group online, writing or circulating a blog about a political issue, or forwarding political videos to friends and colleagues. Unlike traditional political acts, these participatory acts are interactive, peer based, and do not defer to elites or formal institutions. They give youth greater control, voice, and potential influence over the issues that matter most in their lives. Some key findings from the survey include:

  • Young people are engaged in participatory political acts across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines.
       » 43% of white, 41% of black, 38% of Latino, and 36% of Asian American youth have engaged in at least      one act of participatory politics during the prior 12 months.
  • Contrary to common expectations, young people who use the Internet and social media to pursue interests in hobbies, sports, entertainment, and gaming were five times as likely to engage in participatory politics as those who infrequently engaged in these interest-driven online activities.
  • Taking into account participatory politics, institutional politics, and voting black youth are the most engaged of all:
       » Only 25% of black youth report no engagement in any form of political behavior, compared to 33% of      whites, 40% of Asian Americans, and 43% of Latinos.
  • Youth get their news from participatory channels but worry about its credibility:
       » 84% of respondents said they would benefit from learning more about how to tell if news and information      found online is trustworthy.

The research team for the study was led by nationally recognized researchers on youth and civic engagement: Joseph Kahne, an education professor at Mills College and chair of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, which funded the study; and Cathy J. Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and founder of the Black Youth Project.

For more information, visit

About Mills College
Nestled in the foothills of Oakland, California, Mills College is a nationally renowned, independent liberal arts college offering a dynamic progressive education that fosters leadership, social responsibility, and creativity in approximately 950 undergraduate women and more than 600 graduate women and men. The College ranks as one of the Best 376 Colleges in the country and one of the greenest colleges in the nation by The Princeton Review. US News & World Report ranked Mills one of the top-tier regional universities in the country and lists it among the top colleges and universities in the West in the “Great Schools, Great Prices” category. For more information, visit


Last Updated: 6/25/12