Study Gauges Political Ideologies

by Staff

University of California Los Angeles researchers have foundstudents are not all “right.”

In an annual attempt to measure where college freshmen’s politicalideologies lie, researchers found that 30 percent of them nowconsider themselves “far left,” or liberal — the highest percentageto claim that affiliation since 41 percent said they were liberal in1975, during the peak of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.

The 2001 American Freshmen Survey was conducted at 421universities across the country and tallied more than 281,000responses. The survey included opinion polls on a number of sensitivecurrent issues.

For example, the survey found that approximately 58 percent offreshmen believe same-sex couples should be given marital status.About one-third believed capital punishment should be abolished, andabout the same number said they advocated the legalization ofmarijuana.

Carole Kennedy, political science professor on campus, said shewas surprised by the study’s results, because she had seen othersurveys that pointed to trends of students becoming increasinglyconservative.

“It is important to point out that most students — about half –consider themselves ‘middle-of-the-road’ politically, rather thaneither conservative or liberal,” she said.

One theory for the trend toward liberalism, she said, is becausepolitical ideology usually fluctuates with the latest currentpolitical and social events.

The data from research dating back to 1966 seem to support thatpolitical shifting has waxed and waned with major events of thetimes, such as the Vietnam War, fallout from the Watergate Scandal,the energy crisis and perceived failures by the Carteradministration, the Republican revolution of 1994 and the backlashtoward liberalism from the Clinton impeachment in the late 90s, shesaid. Kennedy said the political ideologies of students commonlychange as they mature.

“Political scientists know that the best predictor of a youngperson’s ideology or partisan identification is their parent’sideology or partisan identification, especially with their mother,”she said. “But, certain life-changing events may dramatically affecta person’s political beliefs.”

Such events, she said, might include the terrorist attacks ofSept. 11, which the 2001 UCLA survey predated. She said thatresearchers will be expecting fallout from that event to influenceresults of the next survey.

English junior Brandon Conaway said the findings are consistentwith his perception that San Diego State is a predominantly liberalcampus.

“I think it’s just the direction things are going,” he said. “Yousee it everywhere, on campuses, and in the press and media. But Ithink they are only reflecting what the people want.”

Japanese junior Heather Vantres said she agrees SDSU is a liberalcampus, but said the study might be biased, because it targetsfreshmen, and political views change with maturity.

“When you are polling a bunch of teenagers that just moved awayfrom mom and dad for the first time, and all they want to do isparty, of course their ideology is going to be different from thecollege senior who is paying taxes and holding down a job whilegetting their education,” she said.