University of Virginia Center for Politics

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University of Virginia
Center for Politics
Type Non Profit
Founded 1998
Founder Larry J. Sabato
Headquarters Charlottesville, VA
No. of locations 1
Key people Larry J. Sabato
Employees 11

The University of Virginia Center for Politics was founded in 1998 by professor and political analyst Larry J. Sabato to put into practice his belief that "Politics is a good thing!" The Center for Politics is a nonpartisan organization based in Charlottesville that seeks to increase civic knowledge and involvement among all citizens. The Center for Politics is part of the University of Virginia and draws its funding from a variety of public and private sources. It has its own dedicated staff and building, operating out of historic Montesano, on property once owned by U.S. Senator Thomas S. Martin.

The Center for Politics's main focus is civic education and engagement, exemplified by its flagship program, the Youth Leadership Initiative. The Youth Leadership Initiative provides a free technology-based curriculum of civics materials to K-12 schools across the country and around the world, and conducts the largest all-student mock election in the nation each November.

The Center for Politics also publishes Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, a source of comprehensive election analysis which has been recognized as providing the most accurate electoral predictions in the country on its website and through a free weekly e-mail.

Additionally, the Center for Politics organizes conferences and programs, publishes books and reports, and supports and promotes college student civic education through internships, voter registration drives, and on-campus speakers.


The Center for Politics was founded to "promote the value of politics and the importance of civic engagement."[1] By improving the political process and citizens' interaction with it, the Center for Politics strives to improve the functioning of government itself. In addition, the mission includes three goals:

  • Encourage citizens to actively participate in the political process and government
  • Evaluate and promote the best practices in civic education for students of all ages
  • Educate citizens through the Center for Politics' comprehensive research, programs, and publications


The Center for Politics was founded in 1998 by Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics and noted political analyst Larry Sabato, who is known as "the most quoted professor in all the land."[2] Its first programs that year were the Virginia Governors' Conference, which evolved into the Virginia Political History Project, and a post-election conference which is now the annual American Democracy Conference.

The Youth Leadership Initiative (which provides civic education resources and tools for grades K-12) launched in 1999, as did the National Symposium Series, and the Crystal Ball's election predictions debuted in 2002.

In 2008, the Center for Politics moved into its new home at Montesano, an early 20th century Georgian Revival house on land previously owned by Thomas Staples Martin, US Senator from Virginia. In 2009, the Center for Politics launched its newest program, Global Perspectives on Democracy, a program designed to foster dialogue between citizens in established and emerging democracies around the world, and conduct workshops on civic action plans.

Youth Leadership Initiative

The Youth Leadership Initiative provides free, technology-based civic education materials to K-12 teachers and students in public and private schools in all 50 states and Defense Department schools internationally.

The program emphasizes hands-on participation so that students can directly experience the electoral and legislative procedures of American government. The components of the Youth Leadership Initiative include detailed lesson plans, an online mock election, an online policy-making simulation which engages students in the law-making process nationwide, and a political campaign-simulating computer game.[3]

In 2008, Diane Trim of Inside the School, a website for secondary educators, ranked the Youth Leadership Initiative's mock election highly, giving it more stars than the other two educational mock election programs reviewed and praising the Youth Leadership Initiative program for its comprehensiveness and ease of use.[4]

The Youth Leadership Initiative began as a response to a perception of increasing political apathy among citizens and a decline in the number of schools incorporating civics lessons into their curricula. It started in Virginia public schools, but is now nationwide.

Current partners include[3]:

  • American Bar Association
  • National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS)
  • World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
  • Public Agenda
  • League of Women Voters
  • Close Up Foundation

Sabato’s Crystal Ball

Sabato's Crystal Ball, founded by Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato, is a free, nonpartisan weekly online newsletter and comprehensive website that analyzes the current American political scene and predicts electoral outcomes for U.S House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, governors, and U.S. president races. Since it was first launched in September 2002, the Crystal Ball has garnered a reputation for fair analysis and accurate predictions and is frequently cited by journalists and other political watchers.[5]

Over its lifetime, Sabato's Crystal Ball has a 98% accuracy rate in predicting U.S. House races, 98% accuracy rate in predicting U.S. Senate races (including 100% accuracy each of the past two election cycles), and 94% accuracy rate in predicting gubernatorial races. It also has featured commentary but renowned political scientists and journalists, including Alan Abramowitz of Emory University, James E. Campbell from the University at Buffalo, Dahlia Lithwick who writes for Newsweek and Slate, Thomas E. Mann from the Brookings Institute, and Barbara A. Perry from Sweet Briar College.


American Democracy Conference

The Center for Politics hosts an annual post-Election Day conference to analyze the outcome of the year’s campaigns and elections, discuss its impact on upcoming races and campaigns, and assess the overall state of American democracy.[6] Previous conferences have included such speakers as journalists Dahlia Lithwick, Susan Page, and Rich Lowry, strategists Ed Rollins and Kiki McLean, and public officials Rep. Tom Davis, Rep. Artur Davis, U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, and Sen. Mark Warner.

The 2009 American Democracy Conference will be held on December 3 at the Newseum in Washington, DC and will feature journalists Mike Allen and John F. Harris, Roland Martin, and Juan Williams, along with strategists Paul Begala, Maria Cardona, Ed Gillespie, and Leslie Sanchez, among others.

Virginia Political History Conference

The Virginia Political History Conference focuses on the history of politics, policy, and political leadership in the Center for Politics’s home state of Virginia. The Virginia Political History Conference includes an annual summer conference, a documentary on the same subject, and accompanying research materials. The most recent conference focused on the 50th anniversary of the official end of Massive Resistance, Virginia’s official policy to resist the integration of its public schools, with a conference at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, featuring panels with students who were unable to attend school, as well as keynote speaker Douglas Wilder, the first African-American governor in US history.[7]

There have been eight documentaries produced in conjunction with the conference[8]:

  • No Higher Honor: Charles S. Robb
  • No Higher Honor: John N. Dalton
  • No Higher Honor: Mills E. Godwin
  • No Higher Honor: Linwood Holton
  • No Higher Honor: Gerald L. Baliles
  • Wilder: An American First[9]
  • Sarge Reynolds: A Documentary[10]
  • Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance[11]

National Constitutional Convention

On October 17, 2007, the Center for Politics hosted a National Constitutional Convention in Washington, D.C. The convention featured panel discussions on the U.S. Constitution, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS Face the Nation.[12] The keynote speaker of the Convention was Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and it also featured remarks by former Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro and former Senator Bob Dole.[13]

In conjunction with the Convention and the publication of Larry J. Sabato's A More Perfect Constitution, the Center for Politics produced a documentary, "Questioning the Constitutio".[14] The film features interviews with Professor Larry J. Sabato, former Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and ACLU President Nadine Strossen.Questioning the Constitution won an Award of Excellence from the International Academy of Visual Arts.[15]


The Center for Politics has been involved in a number of publications, from full-length books to academic reports. Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato has written over a dozen books, most notably Feeding Frenzy, Year of Obama, and A More Perfect Constitution. The Dynamic Dominion and Virginia in the Vanguard by Frank Atkinson were published in partnership with the Center for Politics. The Center for Politics has also published the Political Challenges Series on a wide array of topical issues. Volumes in this series include Health Care Half Truths by Dr. Arthur Garson Jr. and Carolyn Engelhard, Freedom is Not Enough: Black Voters, Black Candidates, and American Presidential Politics by Ronald Walters, and Attack the Messenger by Craig Crawford.[16]

The Center for Politics also publishes reports, such as "Virginia Votes" which is a compendium of election results for the state of Virginia. In 2004, it published a report on civic education, "Politics: The Missing Link of Responsible Civic Education," which seeks to explain the reason for a decline of civic engagement among young people and also provide solutions to the problem.[17]

Other programs

National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement

The Center for Politics is one of 20 colleges and universities participating in the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement.[18] The Campaign began in 2003 as an initiative of the Harvard University Institute of Politics.[19] It focuses on three priorities:

  • A Relationship with Electoral Politics
  • A Focus on Career Development
  • A Foundation in Civic Education

As part of the Campaign, the Center for Politics organizes an annual Voter Registration Coalition to register students to vote.[20] The Center for Politics also grants Awards for Civic Excellence, stipends available to undergraduates at the University of Virginia to support internships in the field of politics.[21] The Center for Politics also offers internships to University of Virginia students and select undergraduate students from other institutions, as part of the focus on career development.[22]

Global Perspectives on Democracy

Launched in March 2009, Global Perspectives on Democracy is a new program that seeks to help educate and empower young leaders and representatives of marginalized minority groups in established and emerging democracies to identify and implement effective tools and strategies for civic action and advocacy through peaceful and productive means.[23] The first initiative undertaken as part of Global Perspectives on Democracy was a two-way exchange program, with Sri Lankan citizens visiting the United States to learn about American democracy and two Center for Politics staff members going to Sri Lanka to teach civics lessons and learn about the challenges in Sri Lanka.[24]

National Symposium Series

Begun in 1999, this series of discussions explores "topical issues in American politics." Recently[when?], the series has brought then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to the University of Virginia and hosted several discussions on "taboo subjects" like the roles played by race, religion and gender in political campaigns. Other participants in the Series include former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, former New Hampshire Governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, Democratic Party strategist Donna Brazile, former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker, and journalist Bob Woodward.[25]


External links

University of Virginia Center for Politics's twitter feed (not written by cvillepedia contributors):