Emerging Adulthood Measured at Multiple Institutions (EAMMI) Project

A Teaching/Research Activity on Emerging Adulthood
(the Period from 18-30 Year-Olds) and Election 2004

Although this website is intended mainly for the instructors, student surveyors, and respondents in the project, those of you who have stumbled upon this page are welcome to browse around and check out the linked materials.  Please scroll down to see the rationale, background, participating professors, and project resources.

Rationale.  As instructors of social science research methodology and statistics courses, we feel that learning about these topics should not be "spectator sports."  Accordingly, we are giving our students the "hands on" experience of administering surveys in an actual research study (exact methods differ class-by-class), one that links up with an important current event, namely the presidential election.

Background.  Although most of the electorate falls into firm Democratic and Republican camps, there are still some "swing" voter groups that are not strongly allied with either party and could thus go either way in the election. Pollster Stanley Greenberg, in his book The Two Americas (about the "red" and "blue" states), labels one swing group "the Young and the Restless," which is comprised of voters under 30.  This age range coincides with a concept from human development called Emerging Adulthood.  Our survey will thus examine relationships between various concepts in human development and psychology (contributed by the different investigators), on the one hand, and political attitudes and behaviors, on the other, within 18-30 year-old respondents.

Participating Instructors (click on names depicted on map below to access individuals' faculty webpages, where available; Alan Reifman, organizer).

*Contributed a measure, but did not collect data.

2006 Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) Conference Paper
Experiences of Emerging Adulthood and Solidification of Political Attitudes
Alan S. Reifman, Qingfang Song, Jeffrey J. Arnett

Arnett has conceptualized the ages from roughly 18-30 as a time of Emerging Adulthood (EA).  According to a 2000 article of his:  “Having left the dependency of childhood and adolescence, and having not yet entered the enduring responsibilities that are normative in adulthood, emerging adults often explore a variety of possible life directions in love, work, and worldviews” (for further information on EA, see Dr. Reifman's website on the subject).  The present study focuses on the latter of the three potential exploration domains, namely sociopolitical attitudes.

Although the term Emerging Adulthood is sometimes used generically to describe 18-30 year-olds, individuals in this age group likely vary in the degree to which they feel they are experiencing EA-related phenomena, such as feeling in a state of identity exploration or feeling “in between” different stages of life.  Accordingly, we have developed an instrument – the Inventory of the Dimensions of Emerging Adulthood or IDEA – that aims to assess such individual differences.

Another way in which individuals can vary is in their attitude strength.  In a political campaign, for example, some citizens may have attitudes toward the candidates and issues that are well thought out, firmly held, and considered self-defining by the holder, whereas other citizens' attitudes may exhibit little or none of these properties (for further information on attitude strength, see slides 14-16 of this online display by Cherie Werhun).

Negative relations were hypothesized between Emerging Adulthood dimensions and Attitude Strength dimensions; the more one is in the type of exploratory mode characteristic of EA, the less hardened should be his/her political attitudes. 

Further, such correlations might be most apparent in groups of individuals holding relatively moderate political views (either liberal or conservative), and not in those with “extreme” political ideologies; with less extremity, there would presumably be more openness to exploring and reconsidering attitudes.



To examine the relationship between individual differences in experiencing Emerging Adulthood and the degree to which individuals appear to be exploring (vs. having solidified) their sociopolitical attitudes, we launched a national teaching/research exercise involving statistics and research methods classes across the United States in conjunction with the 2004 presidential election.  Students would thus be gathering data, to aid their learning about the research process. 

The study was initially publicized among instructors via e-mail (listserve) discussion groups and word of mouth.  Based both on instructors’ self-selection to participate and the convenience sampling of respondents, the project does not claim to have a nationally representative sample, but many different regions were included. 


Data collection was based in classes at the universities shown in the map above.  Some instructors administered the survey to their classes early in the semester while students were still "blind" to the purposes of the project.  In some classes (including those in which the students had previously completed the survey themselves), the students engaged in "convenience" or purposive sampling to obtain additional participants (i.e., students administered surveys to friends or other easily accessible individuals known to students).  The overall N = 1,353. Virtually all respondents (~99%) were between the ages 18-30.     


Each participating instructor was allowed to contribute a measure to the overall survey, resulting in a large questionnaire.  The following measures are relevant to the present study.

The IDEA instrument (shown here) was used to measure the Emerging Adulthood dimensions of identity exploration, experimentation/possibilities, negativity/instability, self-focus, and feeling "in between" (another subscale, other-focus, is not focally related to EA theory, but serves as a counterpart to self-focus). 

Attitude Strength, as applied to respondents' political views, was assessed using Berger and Alwitt’s (1996, Journal of Social Behavior & Personality) shortened version of Abelson’s measure.  Attitude Strength subscales (with brief descriptions of items) include: 

In order to conduct analyses within ideological subgroups, a measure of political self-identification (Extremely Liberal to Extremely Conservative), based on the University of Michigan's National Election Study, was used.


Feeling one is experiencing EA was hypothesized, in a general sense, to relate negatively to solidification of political attitudes.  Given the number of subscales for the major constructs, however, results were complex, revealing modest support for the hypotheses.  As shown in the Table below, results were weak within the overall sample, but more supportive findings were obtained with the ideological subgroups. 

The most robust finding (indicated in green in the Table) was that “feeling 'in between'” (one of the IDEA subscales) exhibited significant negative correlations with “cognitive elaboration” (one of the Attitude-Strength subscales), not just in the overall sample (r = -.10), but also in the subsamples of respondents who characterized themselves as “liberal” (r = -.13), “slightly liberal” (r = -.24), and “moderate” (r = -.24). 


In sum, the results provide some initial support for the role of Emerging Adulthood in political attitude formation.  That the most supportive results appeared in the relatively moderate groups makes sense in that individuals considering themselves “extremely” liberal or conservative would likely have little openness to exploring and reconsidering attitudes.  Because of the large number of statistical tests performed, however, caution is warranted.

Other factors that may relate to both Emerging Adulthood and political attitudes, such as political norms in one’s friendship networks and the larger community, should also be considered in future research (Visser & Mirabile, 2004, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).   


Significant Correlations (p ≤ .05)

Overall Sample
(N’s  = 1,318-1,325 )

NEGTV with COG-ELAB (-.07), SELF with EMO-COMM (.07), SELF with EGO-PRE (.08), BETW with COG-ELAB (-.10)
Mixed findings, not very supportive of hypotheses

Extremely Liberal (53-54)

IDEN with EGO-PRE (.38), EXPT with COG-ELAB (.27), EXPT with EGO-PRE (.43), OTHER-FOCUS with EGO-PRE (.28), SELF with EMO-COMM (.27), SELF with EGO-PRE (.37)
Positive correlations are counter to prediction

Liberal (275-276)

BETW with COG-ELAB (-.13)

Slightly Liberal (203-205)

IDEN with COG-ELAB (-.14), EXPT with COG-ELAB (-.21), EXPT with EGO-PRE (-.16), NEGTV with COG-ELAB (-.14), NEGTV with EMO-COMM (-.14), BETW with COG-ELAB (-.24), BETW with EGO-PRE (-.19)

Moderate (242-243)

IDEN with COG-ELAB (-.13), BETW with COG-ELAB (-.24)
In these last three “center-left” groups, more support for the hypotheses

Slightly Conservative (131)

EXPT with EGO-PRE (.17), SELF with EGO-PRE (.19)
Counter to prediction

Conservative (237-239)

NEGTV with EMO-COMM (-.14)

Extremely Conservative (49)


Don’t Know/Haven’t Thought About It (118-119)

BETW with EMO-COMM (-.18), BETW with EGO-PRE (-.19)
Supportive of hypotheses

A preliminary version of this paper was presented by Dr. Reifman to the Group for Attitudes and Persuasion, Ohio State University, May 20, 2005 (click here for photos of OSU visit).  We also thank Alice Eagly and Jon Krosnick for their suggestions on measuring attitude strength.

Web Resources

Dr. Reifman's website on Emerging Adulthood

First chapter of Jeff Arnett's book Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties available free online

        Book info:  http://www.jeffreyarnett.com/windingroad.htm
        Free first chapter: http://www.jeffreyarnett.com/EmerAdul_Chap1.pdf 

Previous political surveys of college students

        Harvard Institute of Politics

        Panetta Institute

University of Michigan's National Election Study (on which some of our political measures are based)

Previous class projects done by Dr. Reifman:

Pew Research Center article on young voters' political engagement  

Kerry wins 18-29 year-old vote in 2004 presidential election 

       One national exit poll of 13,660 respondents, weighted to match Bush's overall 51-48% national win, shows 
       Kerry winning among 18-29 year olds 54-45%        

       Another national exit poll, conducted by the Los Angeles Times with 5,154 respondents and also weighted to 
       match the final overall national results, shows Kerry winning the 18-29 vote 55-43%  
        http://pollingreport.com/2004.htm#Exit   (If you go to the linked document for the L.A. Times exit poll, you'll notice the high 
            number of Californians surveyed; they were presumably weighted down to match California's share of the national population.)

        How different age groups voted in presidential elections from 1976-2000

Organization called Civic Youth has extensive information on the 2004 election.

UCLA Higher Education Research Institute: Fall 2004 entering freshmen, nationally, more politically polarized

Bibliography of Potentially Relevant Articles 
(compiled by Qingfang Song, Graduate Student, Texas Tech University

Bishop, J.B., Lacour, M.A.M., Nutt, N.J.,  Yamada, V.A., & Lee, J.Y. (2004). Reviewing a decade of change in the student culture. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 18, 3-30.  (Excerpt from abstract:  "This article reviews the research that describes the college student culture that emerged between 1992 and 2002. Changes in career, social, political, religious, and spiritual values are noted...")

Buckingham, D. (1999). Young people, politics and news media: Beyond political socialisation. Oxford Review of Education, 25, 171-184.

Egerton, M. (2002) Higher education and civic engagement. British Journal of Sociology, 53, 603-620.  

Flanagan, C., & Sherrod, L. (1998). Youth political development: An introduction. Journal of Social Issues, 54, 447-456.

Highton, B., & Wolfinger, R.E. (2001). The first seven years of the political life cycle. American Journal of Political Science, 45, 202-209.

Jennings, M.K., & Niemi, R.G. (1981). Generations and politics:  A panel study of young adults and their parents.  Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press.

Kalsnes, B. (2002). Disconnected youngsters: Political participation among young American and Norwegian students. Journal of American Culture, 25, 57-64.

Patterson, T.E. (2004). Where did all the voters go? Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 84, 11-14.

Roker, D., Player, K. & Coleman, J. (1999). Participation in voluntary and campaigning activities as sources of political education. Oxford Review of Education, 25, 185-198.

Southwell P.L. (2003). The politics of alienation: nonvoting and support for third-party candidates among 18-30-year-olds.  Social Science Journal, 40, 99-107.

Visser, P. S., & Krosnick, J. A. (1998). Development of attitude strength over the life cycle: Surge and decline. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1389-1410. (located by Dr. Reifman)

Additional articles compiled by the group Civic Youth.

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