Jackson contributes to international conference on political opinions of the young

Dr. David Jackson, political science, was invited to share his expertise on the influences that shape young people’s political beliefs at a conference in southern England earlier this month. Jackson, who is on faculty improvement leave for the 2007-08 academic year, is a Fulbright Visiting Professor this semester at the Katedra Amerykanistyki i Mass Mediow at the University of Lodz, in Poland.

The conference, on the topic of “How Do Young People Form Political Opinions,” was held Dec. 7-9 at the Ditchley Foundation (, which is devoted to the advancement of international learning and bringing together worldwide leaders to discuss global problems. Jackson was invited by foundation member Dr. Jeremy Greenstock, former British Ambassador to the United Nations.

Drawing around 45 academics, activists, politicians and journalists from Europe and North America, discussions focused on all aspects of political socialization, but paid particular attention to voter turnout levels of young people (which remain relatively low), as well as the forms of socio-political participation young people seem to prefer, including local charity activity and single-issue activism. Discussions also focused on how to encourage young people to continue those activities, but also to add voting to the list.

Jackson said he was particularly gratified that the conference included discussions of the influence of entertainment media and celebrity endorsements on young people’s opinions and behavior.

“I was invited to the conference because of the research I have been doing for years on popular culture and politics,” Jackson said. “Now, more than ever, professors and practitioners are realizing the importance of entertainment and entertainers in politics.  I’m not saying Oprah can put Obama in the White House, but she helps draw a crowd and raise money, and my research has shown that celebrities do influence how young people, at least, think about politics.”

He said he came away from the discussions with a renewed commitment to stressing critical thinking about the relationship between entertainment and politics among his students. “My work and other research has shown the influence of popular culture on young people’s beliefs, but I want my students to think seriously about why celebrity influence might work, and whether or not it should.”

Jackson also said the conference influenced his research plans. “So far, I have relied on survey research to determine aggregate relationships between media use and political beliefs. Now I want to conduct deeper discussions with young people in a focus group format to determine at the individual level what young people are thinking about when they consider the various influences over their political beliefs.

"I was also very pleased to be able to tell an international audience about the good things going on at BGSU in terms of research and teaching, for example the Bookstore Engagement Scholarship's combining of community service with a course on the meaning of civic engagement."

December 17, 2007