Paths to Participation: The Use of Social Networks by Young Americans Who Are Participating in Civic and Political Life
Young Americans who are participating in civic and political life in the U.S. are integral to preserving democratic processes. They are tapped into a diverse array of networks, including those that provide them with information and opportunities to participate; and networks that they can distribute this knowledge on to. The use of social networks by politically and civically engaged young people is of consequence to both network theorists and social capital theorists. This study used a 25-question survey and in-depth interviews from a sub-sample of the 400 respondents who are recognized leaders in organizations such as Young Democrats, Young Republicans, College Democrats, College Republicans, or affiliated with the American Democracy Institute or the Truman Scholarship Foundation. We observed which networks are most influential in the lives of these young mobilized leaders and examined their willingness to act as "bridging nodes" that connect civic and political organization networks to their other social networks. This study finds that young mobilized leaders turn to a combination of strong-tie and weak-tie networks when making decisions about daily life and civic life. We find that although friendship networks are highly influential in general life, when it comes to getting involved in civic life, they are the least influential network in the lives of young mobilized leaders. We also learned that although this population recognizes the importance of reaching out to their social networks to support the causes they care about, they are discriminating in the messages they distribute to their personal social networks.
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