Political values, attitudes and participation of youth: continuity and change

Ilišin, Vlasta (2007) Political values, attitudes and participation of youth: continuity and change. In: Croatian youth and European integration. Edition Science and society (22). Institut za društvena istraživanja, Zagreb, pp. 69-148. ISBN 978-953-6218-31-8

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The relatively extensive analysis of political values, attitudes and political participation of youth enables us to better explain the existing trends in the relationship of youth towards politics. Especially helpful in this regard is the comparison with adults, as well as the longitudinal tracking of changes within the young population. Here, we will reflect on the important tendencies and try to understand their wider and far-reaching implications. When we look at all the obtained results, it is evident that there are differences between youth and adults, but only a smaller part of them is significantly pronounced. Thus, the results indicate that the young express a higher level of trust in the media. Furthermore, they are more tolerant towards a number of social phenomena and groups causing debates in the Croatian and the European public, they are more sensitive to ethnic inequalities, they also perceive the war as the main cause of existing difficulties more, they have considerably more faith in their own generation as the social strength which can initiate positive trends, they express a greater readiness for joining different civil activities, and trust that television and youth associations might mobilize them to actively participate in social affairs. At the same time, the young less than the adults accept the values of a democratic order, but are less inclined towards the harmonious conception of politics, they are less socially sensitive, express less trust in the institutions of power, they more rarely express socio-economic goals and preservation of tradition among the political priorities, they choose immorality and crime in privatization as the causes of today's problems less, they perceive less corruption in all areas of social life (aside from the school system), they have less faith in the positive contribution of experts and entrepreneurs in overcoming the crisis trends, they are less interested in politics and participate in political parties less, and their trust in the mobilizing role of democratic education, volunteer work, political parties and nongovernmental organizations, as well as in the contribution of the family and educational system in the stimulation of the social engagement of youth, is much lower. The enumerated differences between the youth and adults can primarily be interpreted from the discourse of the life cycle theory. This means that the witnessed differences are mostly the product of a different total social status of youth and adults, which presumes that most of the young have yet to take over their permanent social roles, and that their immediate experience is limited to some social areas. It follows that with their maturing and their full social integration, most differences from the adults will be erased. The common experience of a time in history, that is, life in a specific socio-historic period with a tendency to equalize differences, contributes to the convergence of youth and adults. The potential generational differences – which, as a rule, occur with the different reception of the same events and processes – are not very visible, and will be unambiguously detected only when today's generation of youth is in its mature age and when their attitudes are then compared with the attitudes of new young generations. Then, it will be more clear how much the existing differences between the young and the adults are a consequence of the fact that most adults gained their experience in a different social order, which, to a degree, forms their existing system of political values, which in some elements, especially related to the social dimensions, are different from the system of political values of youth. The absence of deep inter-generational divides indicates that, in spite of the radical changes taking place in the dissolution of the old and the establishment of a new social and political order, the mechanism of transferring political values from the adult generations to the young functions considerably, along with the faults that exist in the constructed political awareness of adults. Here, we must notice that the adults are more resistant to the potentially unfavorable influences from the environment, which is especially evident in their better understanding of the democratic rules. This statement also suggests that Croatia is now in a more stable period of social development, which is expected when the early phase of transition is replaced by the democratic consolidation phase. Therefore, it was demonstrated that the young in Croatia accept traditional values somewhat less than the adults, but also that in some areas they are just as more conservative compared to their European peers. Pointing to this is the greater orientation of Croatia youth towards family and the lower level of tolerance for some phenomena and groups in the modern society. Also, the social participation of Croatian youth is at a lower level, which testifies less to their lack of interest, and more to the inability of the Croatian society to meet the needs of youth for realizing its social necessities. The third comparative level includes the tracking of changes occurring within the Croatian youth between 1999 and 2004. The recapitulation of the obtained results indicates that in the observed period of time there has been an increase in the already relatively high level of acceptance of all the constitutional principles, as well as in the harmonious perception of politics and institutional trust, while the lack of work, discipline and irresponsibility are now more perceived as a social problem than before. The recent data also indicate that the young today perceive the existence of educational, gender and age related differences more, as well as the worsening political representation of all marginal groups. On the other hand, the understanding of conflicts and democratic rules (especially the role of the opposition) is weaker, the emphasis of crime in transformation of ownership and privatization as problems is smaller, the young now perceive the existence of social and religious differences less, their social activism and political participation is reduced, and the perception of joining political party youths and establishing autonomous youth parties as forms of activities that might contribute to a more active participation of youth in society decreased. The mentioned changes tend to lead to a further social, especially political, (self)passivity and marginalization of youth, and it is especially intriguing that it does not sufficiently understand political competition and its importance. If this was understandable in the first phase of transition, considering the war, stimulating homogenization, and the absence of a democratic tradition and the monopolization of power by one political party – the obtained results are no longer as understandable after spending more than 15 years in a multiparty democratic system. Therefore, we can presume that some elements of a functional political system and behavior of political protagonists is such that they convince the young that democracy, immanently inclined toward a conflict between political interests, is simply a less important form without obligating rules and procedures. This certainly points to faults in the process of political socialization of youth, which especially raises the issue of the need for an institutionalized education for democracy. In other words, if the adult generations, socialized in a different social order, still cannot optimally transfer their values in new generations, and if the functioning of political institutions is still marked by numerous “ child illnesses” , than education, which can develop civil competence, is necessary. Anyway, in the countries that do not lack a democratic tradition, education for civil rights and democracy is a permanent process which takes place through appropriate school programs. The data also show that there has been a certain decrease in the social sensitivity of youth, which must be a consequence of socialization in a society aiming at market competitiveness and maximizing profit. The accompanying consequences are – especially with the lack of developed instruments of a social state, and after the poorly implemented restructuring of economy – the deepening of social inequalities and the decrease of the living standards of a large portion of the population. Thus, maturing in a society that suppresses social sensitivity, the young also become insufficiently sensitive to the issue of social justice in the (re)distribution of significantly limited resources. The young are raised in an environment in which their immediate and indirect experience tells that personal success is important, and the responsibility for achieving or not achieving it, is also personal. The emphasized orientation on competition and individualization of achievements weakens the social sensitivity and solidarity with the losers of social transformation. However, during the past several years the acceptance of the Constitutionally outlined basic political values has increased. This is a very important finding because such a high, and increased validation of liberal-democratic principles, leads us to assume that the Croatian society is overcoming the anomy it was in since the transitional period began. Leaving aside many events from the social and political practice that are witnesses to the recurrent violation, disregard or reduction of the interpretation of constitutional principles, we are left with an extremely high convergence of the political value systems of youth (as well as adults) and the officially proclaimed political values. This, of course, is no guarantee of a harmonized and appropriate behavior of those in power and of citizens, but it certainly represents the necessary level of consensus about the principles a pluralistic society and a democratic political order should be built on. The continuity of the tendencies established in the previous research is confirmed by the findings that youth is not a monolithic group, regarding the acceptance of political values, expression of political attitudes and level of political participation. The systemized data indicate, however, that the young tend to be homogenous in their acceptance of constitutional values and democratic attitudes, the common perception of social and socio-cultural inequalities, the extreme perception of their political status as marginal, and their average readiness to join different civil actions. At the same time, the greatest level of differentiation occurs regarding the not especially present tolerance toward most of the observed social phenomena and groups, the perception of unemployment as the most important social problem and the cause of existing difficulties, the average perception of the existence of political inequalities, and the expression of a weak interest in politics as well as the perception of the role of the “ Diaspora” in Croatian political life. Looking at these results generally, it turns out that the young are mostly different regarding the level of achieved education and socio-professional status. The education level usually has the position of the attribute that affects the participants' attitudes the most in every social research, and it is interesting here because this is true even in the young population, many of which are still in the process of obtaining an education. Certainly, the basic division occurs between those with the lowest and highest qualifications, where a part of youth with high school education tends to get the same results as the academically educated youth. These are primarily students, and the fact is that education is very linked to the socio-professional position of youth, which has the same scope of influence on their differentiation. The results have manifested that students are usually on the one side, and pupils and the unemployed youth on the other in most situations. While with pupils we can assume that there will be a change with their maturing, the issue of the unemployed participants remains, because they seem to be a subgroup of youth that is placed more permanently on the social and political margins. A significant influence on the differentiation of youth is played by party affiliation, gender, age, regional status and the father's level of education. This group of attributes points to the influence of different types of socialization, along with a degree of (im)maturity of youth. In other words, being raised in families with different social statuses and in regions with different levels of development and cultural traditions, results in the formation of different attitudes of youth. It is also obvious that in the area of relationships towards politics, the differentiated models of socialization of women and men are still at work, contributing to the survival of the commonly known gender differences. As is logical when the political sphere is involved, party affiliation is an important element of polarization because it consists both of different ideological orientations, and of differences in the social profile of party supporters. The least influential attributes are the residential status, provenience and religiousness. These trends indicate a certain weakening of the influence of rural-urban differences, which is to be expected in a modern society, where the media override the transportation, infrastructural, cultural and other differences. The poor influence of religiousness indirectly testifies to the weakening of the correlation between the adoption of religious beliefs and the manifestation of religious affiliation, resulting in the loss of certain differences between the religious and the non-religious youth. However, the share of religious believers is such that their attitudes predominantly determine the main direction of youth orientations, which then points to a strengthening of the influence of religious on a general level. It is therefore questionable if the weakest influence of religion on political attitudes of youth may be seen as an indicator of a weakening correlation between politics and religion, traditionally present in this area. All the mentioned differentiation of youth can be summarized by sketching out two large, relatively polarized groups. One group consists of youth with higher education and social origin (an above averagely educated father, urban environment, and developed regions), students, averagely older, mostly non-religious and supporters of HNS and SDP – that is, the socially more competent youth, inclined to the left center ideological-political options. The other group consists of averagely younger participants, especially pupils and the unemployed with a lower education and social background (a father with lower qualifications, rural milieu, less developed regions), declared believers and sympathizers of HDZ, as well as HSP and HSS. In this case, we are profiling a socially more inferior youth inclined toward parties positioned at the right-wing pole of the ideological-political spectrum. The socially more competent youth is more liberal, critical toward social reality and political protagonists, and it manifests a greater consideration for democratic procedures and institutions, which is an indicator of the importance of more favorable circumstances in the process of political socialization. Since some of these circumstances are impossible to change by focused actions and campaigns, education is again the most appropriate channel of adopting knowledge and information that can contribute to the making of aware citizens, who are more difficult to manipulate and objectify for certain dubious particular political goals. The changes in the polarization of youth indicate that the territorial-cultural and ideological-cultural cleavages deepened in the past several years, and there are indications that the socio-economic cleavage will grow stronger as well. The unequal access to existing social resources of today's youth will generate an unequal status in their mature age, that is, the advantages achieved at the start (youth), are a guarantee of achieving better social positions in the future. Therefore, we can expect a widening and deepening of the process of social differentiation, which, if it is not corrected through mechanisms aimed at ensuring equal access, at least in the process of enabling youth to take over the permanent social roles, in the approach to social resources (primarily education), can be disastrous for the optimal development of a relatively undeveloped nation with a small population. What we mean is that human capital is what such countries, including Croatia, need to treat with a lot of thought and responsibility and invest in maximally. Among other things, by stimulating as many citizens as possible, especially the young, to actively participate in the social processes and institutions. Finally, the results obtained in this research may be summarized into tendencies and statements of a wider nature. Firstly, the political culture of youth testifies in a number of aspects that we are approaching democratic standards – especially regarding the acceptance of basic liberal-democratic values and the principle readiness for social engagement – but also that its social power and social capital are low. Secondly, the young are aware of their social and political marginalization, and recognize an entire spectrum of measures which might contribute to them achieving a certain amount of power and become active citizens, which is desirable in a democratic society, but they insufficiently use the channels of social and political promotion at their disposal. And thirdly, the young are not that different from the adults to enable us to mention a generational gap, let alone a conflict. However, the young did turn out to be somewhat more liberal, flexible and tolerant, which is certainly an argument in favor of them gaining and/or winning adequate social space for expressing their attitudes and desires. Their similarity to the adults might appease those social structures which fear that youth activation might end up in the radicalization of political life, which is difficult to control. This same inter-generational resemblance could be disappointing to those social structures that have high hopes regarding the innovative potential of youth and its ability to carry out the necessary changes. Independent of the potential fears and desires of the adults, one should assume that there is enough latent potential in the young population, which, in a more favorable social environment, might be more pronounced. The establishment of such an environment might be helped by the knowledge that the Croatian society, on its way to the European Union, needs the activity of all social resources, as well as the potential of youth, as the most vital segment of the society, which is most open to changes.

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: Language: English.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Youth, political values, participation
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Depositing User: Karolina
Date Deposited: 30 Dec 2015 12:01
Last Modified: 30 Dec 2015 12:01
URI: http://idiprints.knjiznica.idi.hr/id/eprint/417

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