The study identifies six types of civically engaged young adults across the five countries: Those who have, so far, taken little to no civic action can be allocated to three groups: Eleven percent belong to the politically left-leaning Hesitant Progressives who have yet to act on their pronounced concerns about environmental and social justice. Likewise, members of the sizable Quiet Mainstream (33%) are mostly inactive, but also less politically interested. Their counterparts to the right are the Passive Traditionalists (8%) who, despite their strong religious affiliations, are not particularly involved.
The other three groups comprise the civically engaged population. The largest is the Proactive Center (24%), whose affiliates are less driven by any particular issue, but are nonetheless willing to be involved. The youngest and most left-leaning group as well as the group with the highest overall level of civic engagement are the Progressive Movers (14%), who are strongly dedicated to climate action and the rights of disenfranchised groups, including migrants and the LGBTQI+ community. Their counterparts on the right are referred to as Conservative Campaigners (10%). The members of this group tend to promote traditional values and personal wealth. They are more organized and less afraid of physical violence or legal risks.
The juxtaposition between these Progressive Movers and the Conservative Campaigners alone indicates a potential for conflict that is fueled by deep disagreements over wedge issues such as migration. Nevertheless, each group also serves as a “safe space” for like-minded individuals, sheltering them from outside attacks by state authorities, online trolls and others who disagree with them. Thus, they also help mitigate the risks to which “their” people are exposed and thereby encourage civic engagement.
Although their contrasting ideological positions may suggest there is little room for constructive dialogue, the survey results indicate several windows of opportunity, as both groups show significant agreement on issues such as citizen participation, green infrastructure and work–family policies.
They show a keen sense of environmental and social justice, but are anxious about their time commitments, uncertain of what actions they themselves can take and prefer to avoid risks – particularly physical and legal conflicts. Women and the well-educated are overrepresented within this group compared to the general young adult population. With regard to the urban–rural divide, however, the distribution mirrors that of the population as a whole. Some attitudes and attributes that distinguish this segment are the following:
The Hesitant Progressives are significantly less likely to take risks than their much more engaged ideological compatriots, the Progressive Movers. They are also more likely than the Progressive Movers to cite personal factors as barriers to civic engagement, for example lack of time (32%) or uncertainty about what actions to take (38%).
The Quiet Mainstream represent the “silent majority,” which many established centrist and center-right parties across Europe rely on for support. They are primarily concerned with issues that affect them personally and are mostly willing to take action that aligns easily with their established lifestyle and routines. They have a similar gender and age distribution as the young adult population overall, but are slightly more rural and somewhat less educated than the average. Key attitudes and attributes of the Quiet Mainstream include the following:
The values and concerns of the Quiet Mainstream are on par with the ”average” young adult in nearly every regard. Along with the more right-leaning Passive Traditionalists, they are the least engaged. They also have the second-highest aversion to risk, after the Passive Traditionalists.
Passive Traditionalists are the most rural category and the oldest on average. Men are over-represented, though not as heavily as among their ideological compatriots, the Conservative Campaigners. While considerably more right-leaning than most of their peers, they are also the least convinced that getting personally involved will make a difference — and the least comfortable with the various risks involved in civic engagement, for example conflict with friends and family. Attributes and attitudes that characterize the Passive Traditionalists include the following:
Of the young adults surveyed, Passive Traditionalists are the least likely to engage in civic action — and many are strongly resistant to changing their personal habits. They are also the most risk-averse group. This is a notable factor that differentiates them from their right-leaning compatriots, the Conservative Campaigners, who are often willing to risk conflict for the sake of their political goals.
Progressive Movers are the youngest and most left-wing category as well as the group with the highest overall level of civic engagement. They stand out on account of their strong progressive values, such as gender equality, social justice and environmental sustainability. They are very willing to change their own habits and participate in the political process as well as much more willing to invest their time and energy in street-level protests (62% vs. 28% survey average). However, they are less organized than their rightwing counterparts, the Conservative Campaigners. Progressive Movers are the youngest group and the only one with a measurable non-genderbinary component (2%). The following attitudes and attributes distinguish the Progressive Movers from the other groups:
Progressive Movers are the most fearless when it comes to stigma and conflicts in personal social circles; compared to their actively engaged right-wing counterparts, though, the Conservative Campaigners, they are less willing to deal with the police, counter-protestors and the legal system, and they are more concerned about taking financial risks. This could be because, on average, Progressive Movers are younger and have less organizational experience and support.
The Proactive Center is that group in the political mainstream that actually engages in civic action. They share almost equal levels of concern about environmental matters with the Progressive Movers, but they are less convinced when it comes to issues of social justice, for example the rights of minority groups. They are also significantly less risk-tolerant than their committed left- or right-wing peers. Notably, men are over-represented in the Proactive Center compared to the less committed Quiet Mainstream. Key attitudes and attributes include the following:
The Proactive Center are less passionate about specific values than either the Progressive Movers or the Conservative Campaigners, and less likely to invest significant time and energy in civic action. However, they are notably more likely than the Quiet Mainstream to change their own habits in order to affect social and environmental change.
Conservative Campaigners are the engagement type that identifies most strongly as right wing. They are clearly committed to the values of individual prosperity and national identity – and also display latent authoritarian tendencies, as is evidenced by their comparatively high agreement with statements like “violence can be morally justified to achieve certain political goals” (44% agree “strongly” or “somewhat” vs. 23% of all surveyed respondents) and “we should be grateful for leaders telling us exactly what to do” (43% vs. 23%). Attitudes and attributes that distinguish this type include the following:
Conservative Campaigners are by far the most organized group: Forty-five percent report having helped start a citizens’ initiative or a social enterprise (vs. 24% of Progressive Movers), 40% have actively worked with a political party or movement (vs. 28%) and 45% have helped organize political events (vs. 33%). This organizational experience and support might be one of the key reasons why Conservative Campaigners are more willing to risk legal consequences (20% very willing vs. 10% of Progressive Movers) or dealing with the financial consequences of their actions (20% vs. 13%).