Political Hay

Young Republicans

Survey says: Undergrads swing right.

By 11.9.03

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College students are usually expected to be sophomoric in political outlook, only discovering conservative values once they're finally forced to pick up their own bar tabs. "Anyone who isn't a socialist at age 20," Churchill is erroneously said to have said, "doesn't have a heart." College is a time of protest and experimentation that temporarily places students to the left of their working peers and parents.

However, a recently released survey conducted by Harvard University's Institute of Politics (IOP), casts some doubt on this picture. The IOP interviewed 1,202 undergraduates in the first part of October, (with margin of error of about 3 percent) and its findings were wonderfully counterintuitive.

Specifically, the IOP poll found that President Bush is more popular with college undergrads than he is with the general population -- by a significant margin. Sixty-one percent of students approve of the job Bush is doing, compared to 53 percent of the public. In fact, Bush's job approval rating has remained steady over the last six months among undergrads, even as it has declined elsewhere (a similar survey was done in April). In addition, 46 percent of undergrads say that the country is "on the right track," compared to 39 percent of the public. That number is even more surprising considering the tight job market that college students face -- one would think they would be railing against the president with every rejected résumé.

Instead, students are sucking it up and supporting the president against his opponents. Bush's re-elect numbers have actually grown among college students since April. According to the IOP survey, 39 percent of college students plan to vote for Bush, compared to 34 for the Democratic opponent-to-be-named-later.

Even the conventional wisdom that undergrads don't vote could be in for some updating, since 56 percent said they would definitely vote, and another 26 percent said they probably would. Even half of "definite" voters voting would create quite a buzz in the next election.

Moreover, undergraduates are not naïve about their choice. Only 12 percent of those surveyed said they believe the administration is telling the entire truth on Iraq, compared to 66 percent who said they believe it is hiding some things, and 21 percent who said they believe it is thoroughly full of it. A majority also think the U.S. should move in another direction on Iraq -- 8 percent said we should withdraw all the troops, and 48 percent of said we should begin the withdrawal.

For future political roadmap drawing, self-identified college Republicans now outnumber Democrats by a 31 to 27 percent margin. True, 38 percent of those surveyed said they were non-affiliated or Independent, and the survey didn't distinguish between James Jeffords-style independents and true Independents. Moreover, as suggested by certain senators from the Northeast, not all self-identified Republicans are conservatives.

Still, the IOP survey should hearten conservatives across the country. It indicates that despite all the pablum from tenured pulpits, conservatives are not losing on the ideological battlefields of college campuses. This could be at least partially a tribute to the on campus efforts of conservative organizations like the Leadership Institute and Young America's Foundation. But the IOP survey may also indicate a failure of the liberal academic establishment -- of students simply tuning out the ideological sermonizing.

Regardless of the reason, being a campus radical isn't nearly as cool as it used to be. The Republican leaning of undergraduates also augurs ill for the long-term outlook of the left, since individuals tend to become more conservative as they age.

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About the Author

Charles Rousseaux is an editorial writer for the Washington Times.