Written by Ethan Paul, undergraduate student at the Pennsylvania State University
In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2017, 67 percent of American adults said that “serving on a jury is part of what it means to be a good citizen.”
However, this tends to not hold across different demographic groups: younger Americans, minority groups, and those without a college education are all below the average, with the young significantly so:
For example, only half of those ages 18 to 29 say jury service is part of being a good citizen, compared with seven-in-ten or more in older age groups. Blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to see jury duty as a part of good citizenship, as are those with a high school diploma or less when compared with people with at least some college education.
This decline among the young could reflect a decline in the rate at which cases go to trial in the modern court system. For example, in 2016 only 43,697 Americans were selected for federal petit jury duty, down 39% from 71,578 in 2006. Moreover, in 2016, only 2% of the 77,318 federal defendants had their cases decided by a jury, half as much as in 2006. (See the New York Times article, “Trial by Jury, a Hallowed American Rights, is Vanishing.”)
This decline can be seen with civil jury trials, as well. According to the NYU School of Law’s Civil Jury Project, in 1990, there were 4,765 civil trials decided by a jury, whereas in 2015 there were only 1,882, despite a drastic increase in the prevalence of civil lawsuits. In a talk at NYU, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor lamented this decline, saying that jury service in American democracy is “the one responsibility of citizenship…where you’re asked to serve and actually come to a decision on the behalf of the society that we represent.” She views jury service as the “front line of protecting the society and its liberties.” (We wrote more about both Justice Sotomayor’s talk and the Civil Jury Project, which can be found here and here.)
However, these views on jury service among younger Americans are not necessarily evidence of a broader disengagement with the political system, especially after the 2016 election. In a survey conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics in Spring, 2017, the difference between 18-29 year-olds saying that politics is and isn’t “relevant to my life right now” was 31%–up from only 17% in 2012. A third also disagreed with the statement, “Political involvement rarely has any tangible results”–a result higher than the 27% expressing a similar view in 2012.
Moreover, 74% and 53% of 18-29 year-olds also say that “voting” and “talking about important issues,” respectively, are one of the “top three most effective ways to produce change in American society.” Their political advocacy is also increasingly occurring online: 40% and 35% of young Democrats and Republicans, respectively, reported signing an online petition.
Nonetheless, younger Americans, as well as older Americans, are growing increasingly distrustful of American democracy more broadly: according to analysis of an AmericasBarometer data by the Washington Post, only 50% of Americans aged 18-25 expressed support for the political system in 2014, down from nearly 70% in 2006.
Younger Americans also view political debate as increasingly uncivil and have become less tolerant. According to a 2016 poll conducted by the Harvard IOP, nearly two-thirds (62%) of 18-29 year-olds believe the level of civility in American politics over the last five years has declined. According to AmericasBarometer, from 2006 to 2014, the amount expressing support for political tolerance declined from roughly 80% to just over 60%.