Dr. Larry J. Sabato is a New York Times best-selling author who has won three Emmys and is recognized as one of the nation’s most respected political analysts. In 1998, Larry Sabato founded the Center for Politics to encourage citizens to become more engaged in policy and government.


Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan online newsletter which analyzes current events in politics and has one of the highest accuracy rates of predicting elections, has become one of the most trusted political resources in the county.


As an educator, Sabato’s commitment to building the next generation of strong, ethical leaders has encouraged many to pursue active roles in government. Professor Sabato is also a recipient of The Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor of the University of Virginia.


Aside from the general frustrations that we all hear nearly every day, in the middle and late 1990s we noticed a decline in civics instruction within public schools nationwide, particularly as mandated (state and federal) education standards became political fashion across the country. Unfortunately, it was often the case that civics classes were among the first causalities.


My generation learned about American democracy all the way through school, not just in the senior year of high school. Such an intense focus on civics is virtually unheard of today. Teaching the next generation about our civic obligations as citizens of this country should never become an old-fashioned idea.


The concern we had in founding the Center, and it’s still there today, was how best to teach American democracy and other important civic history lessons that help navigate the complex workings of government and politics. Many, many parents do a great job of teaching their children about democracy and they are excellent role models for active civic behavior. My parents encouraged me and I’m grateful for it. Schools used to serve as another important source. Sadly, that is no longer uniformly true.


The biggest obstacle we encountered at the start remains our biggest obstacle today, namely convincing people: A) That organized civics education is essential to the long-term health and vitality of American democracy, and; B) that “fixing” what’s broken is a job for everyone, not just “that person over there” or “this person over here”.


Teaching and encouraging people to become actively engaged in politics and government was the mission that guided the founding of the University nearly 200 years ago. Continuing to foster this important civic mission is why we established the Center for Politics in 1998 and it inspires everything we’ve done since. Citizen participation and education are twin pillars that support good government, and we’re committed to teaching and helping build the next generation of strong, ethical leaders. Every class and public program is designed with a two-fold mission. We want to encourage active participation, but it’s equally important to do so as informed citizens.

Many people are understandably frustrated with politics and politicians, and that’s true across the political spectrum, regardless of party affiliation. Still, our system is only as good as those who are willing to participate. If we find politics frustrating, or worse, the answer is not to turn away from it. In fact, those are probably the times when the system needs your attention the most. We all bear part of the responsibility for improving things, and we hope the Center for Politics serves is a resource for everyone in making the system work better.

“Still, our system is only as good as those who participate. If we find politics frustrating, or worse, the answer is not to turn away from it. In fact, those are probably the times when the system needs your attention the most.”


Failure offers many important lessons if one is willing to learn them. It’s important not to dwell only on whether one fails, but to understand why. True failure comes in repeating the same mistakes.


Of course, I still think about it [failure] all the time, because we haven’t yet “succeeded” and probably never will, at least not fully. While we’ve made progress in encouraging a more educated and engaged electorate, new problems arise all the time. That’s the nature of politics; for every problem society “fixes” ten new ones crop up.


American democracy (technically ours is a democratic-republic) is, and likely always will be a working experiment. We should always be working to improve.


One of the Center’s proudest achievements is the national program, Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI). It was the first program developed by the Center nearly twenty years ago, and it remains one of the primary reasons we exist today. YLI has become the foremost youth civic education program in the country, developing resources for school-age children from kindergarten through twelfth grade. It’s a regular part of the curriculum in nearly 100,000 K-12 schools nationwide and in Department of Defense schools around the world. Literally millions of students have participated in it over the years. We’re also especially excited about the Center’s ongoing efforts to create more student internship opportunities in state and federal government for University students. Our goal is to challenge students to ignore the cynics and view civic participation as a high calling.

I am also pleased that our Crystal Ball has grown into one of the most sought-after sources of political analysis in the country. All of our programs and resources are offered free of charge, and anyone can sign up for either or both from our website, centerforpolitics.org.


Our newest program, Global Perspectives on Democracy (GPD), is now in its tenth year. Last year alone we hosted 17 weeks of exchanges/fellowships for 206 people from 16 countries. The program is, essentially, an international offshoot of Youth Leadership Initiative and other domestic civics education programs we offer. Our goal is to help foster one-on-one dialogue among citizens of the United States and those of other democratic societies around the world.


This fall we’ll be releasing our newest national television documentary focused on the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s birth entitled “The House That Jack Built.” It will premiere in October on PBS stations across the country.

“It’s important not to dwell only on whether one fails, but to understand why. True failure comes in repeating the same mistakes.”


I like the lesson of the fisherman: Give a person a fish and they eat for a day; but teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime. I founded the Center a resource to help people navigate the complexities of contemporary politics and, ultimately, to help improve our democracy. Politics shouldn’t be something that happens TO you, or that happens AROUND you. But it will be nothing more than that unless one is actively engaged in steering the ship. Politics is a good thing, because it presents each of us with a real opportunity to make a difference.


My parents introduced me to politics very early when I was just a young boy in elementary school. My dad took me to events for some guy who I thought at the time was named Kennedy Johnson. They taught me to pay attention. We talked about politics at the dinner table and they took me to the polls when they voted. And all of this was reinforced in my classes at school.


Many people have inspired me over the years, namely my parents, as I noted. My father was a first-generation American and he became a decorated veteran of World War II. He saw how poor citizen education and citizen participation in Germany helped build Hitler’s Third Reich, and he also saw how the Allies’ early setbacks were due mainly to a lack of American civic awareness and preparation in the years prior to the war. So he never missed voting in an election in his life, and he also made sure that no one else in our family was absent from the polls either.


I’m also inspired by the University itself. I’m excited for the Center for Politics’ role in the bicentennial and for the opportunity such an event presents for all of us to reaffirm the original civic mission of the University to improve the health of American democracy. Building on our extensive national and international civics network of nearly 100,000 teachers, the Center will engage in dynamic programming and public outreach committed to strengthening democratic principles and renewing our pledge to responsible civics education and active civic engagement.


I’m a native of Norfolk and I came to Charlottesville as a UVA undergraduate student. I became “hooked” as they say, and after graduate studies I returned here to teach.


I think Charlottesville is pretty great already. I hope it will always remain a place that inspires young and old alike to imagine great things and then work to make those dreams a reality.

“American democracy is, and likely always will be a working experiment. We should always be working to improve.”