Although at first blush, polls seem to show that the youth vote mirrors that of society in general, a closer look at changing attitudes among college freshmen shows that they may be, as the liberals used to say, “a product of their environment.”
“In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports,” that polling firm revealed on January 3, 2010. “Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats.”
“That’s down from 36.0 a month ago  and from 37.8% in October . Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005.” On the face of it, survey results from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), seem to show that young people are, if anything, less likely to be Democratic partisans than the population as a whole.
“Although a drop in the percentage of first-year students identifying as liberal might at first seem like a reaction to President Obama’s first year in office, it actually follows a pattern seen in CIRP Freshman Survey data since President Carter was elected in 1976,” the HERI reported. “As we reported last year, the 2008 first-year class contained the highest percentage of liberals since 1973, at 31.0%.”
“In 2009, this dropped two percentage points to 29.0%, returning to pre-election levels (29.3% in 2007).” Nevertheless, a closer look at HERI’s data, as displayed in the January 29, 2010 Chronicle of Higher Education show that students have been adopting more liberal positions over just the past half decade.
Of the incoming freshmen in 2009:
- 68.4% believe “Colleges should prohibit racist/sexist speech on campus,” up from 58.6 % in 2004;
- 64,9% believe that “same-sex couples should have the right to legal marital status,” up from 56.7% in 2004;
- 58% believe “abortion should be legal,” up from 53.9% in 2004; and
- 45.6% believe “marijuana should be legalized,” up from 37.2% in 2004.
Where do these notions come from? One place to look might be the National Education Association platform that the teacher’s union votes on annually.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia .