The data for this study was collected as part of the baseline for a multi-site youth violence prevention study. Participants were 1718 youth attend middle and high school in two southeastern cities. The sample was gender balanced, and racially/ethnically diverse, with an average age of 13.5 years old. Participants completed measures related to the degree to which they participated in several types of social and political activities including political participation (e.g., joining a demonstration, contacting a public official), volunteerism (helping others in need), and their sense efficacy in making a difference. Participants also completed measures related to their opinions and attitudes toward the role that people and systems play in causing social problems. A latent class analysis was conducted to develop empirically derived profiles based on student participation, volunteerism, and sense of efficacy. In turn, these profiles were used to examine group differences in student attitudes toward social problems.
The LCA identified six mutually exclusive classes of political participation. The resulting classes were differentiated by both their level participation and their sense of efficacy. The two largest classes were characterized by consistently low participation and efficacy (n = 623) and consistently moderate amounts of participation and efficacy (n = 606). The remaining classes consisted of different constellations of high engagement in selected type of political activity and variable perceptions of their political efficacy. Examination of their attitudes toward social problems indicate significant group differences in their perception of the prevalence of racism and the role of racism in social problems (p < .001 for all group comparison).
The results of this study support the hypothesis that there are discernible differences among youth as it relates to their social and political engagement. Further, these results suggest that sociopolitical attitudes are associated with differences in the amounts and types of youth civic engagement. These results suggest the possibility that youth engagement in critical social issues might increase as they develop a greater social and critical consciousness.