Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Student political opinions

These two articles summarize the findings of this survey of student attitudes.

A quick first response: I’m not much surprised by this snapshot of student opinion, both with respect to its general orientation and with respect to its slight move over time in a direction not heartening to Republicans. While student opinion and political behavior might make a difference on the margins in the upcoming elections (more in 2008 than in 2006--and you have to bear in mind that this survey is next to useless in offering any insight into an election more than two years away), the undergraduate years are typically a high water mark for liberalism and liberal attitudes. Students for the most part don’t own homes and have families, both of which tend to make them more conservative.

There is one noteworthy result, though I don’t quite know what to make of it yet. 51% of the respondents agreed that stem cell research is a question of morality; 62% agreed that abortion is a question of morality; and 50% agreed that gay marriage policy is a question of morality. This of course doesn’t mean that they’re taking "conservative" views of the subjects. They might be "morally" committed to a position of choice or autonomy. That 25% of the students are identified as "religious centrists," which apparently means (among other things) that they oppose gay marriage and abortion, while taking more "liberal" stances on other issues, suggests at least that a substantial portion of those who call these issues questions of morality really mean that they oppose stem cell reasearch, gay marriage, etc. How much that opposition will influence their voting behavior is another question altogether. (Many "religious centrists" are African-American and Hispanic. The social conservatism of the former group hasn’t led many of them into the Republican camp, though upcoming campaigns in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland might begin to attract them.)

Discussions - 2 Comments

I think it’s a fair generalization that college students will tend to identify themselves with any political trend that runs counter to what they perceive to be the prevailing view. It was, for instance, university students in Weimar Germany who threw themselves wholeheartedly into the Nazi and Communist parties--in other words, the two parties openly committed to the overthrow of the republic. In the early 1960s much was made of the growing conservative movement on campus--a reaction against Kennedy-era policies. Later in that decade, of course, college and university students moved leftward--but not toward the policies of Lyndon Johnson, but rather to the New Left, which rebelled against LBJ’s brand of New Deal liberalism. If they tend to favor Democrats today, it is because the Republicans have been in power long enough to be perceived as the Establishment.

I strongly disagree with your comment Professor Moser. Perhaps at the high school level or during teenage years it is true. However, if it remains true at the college level, the student is never conscious of it. They have reasons for their beliefs, even if they are motivated by outside sources. I think your genralization is an easy way to disregard concerns of an upcoming generation, and I believe it has been used to simplify their concerns for generations.

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