26 January 2012

Political Identification of American College Freshmen

Courtesy of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the graph above shows a time series of the self-reported political orientation of college freshman in the United States. There is a subtle hint of an increased polarization at the end of the G. W. Bush presidency, somewhat reversed in the time since. Like the US as a whole, the perspectives are dominated by those who describe their political views as "middle of the road."


  1. Roger -

    To determine an "increase polarization" did you weight changes in the extremes more heavily?

  2. There is a subtle hint of an increased polarization at the end of the G. W. Bush presidency

    IMHO Driven by the perception that conscription would become a necessity.

  3. College freshman probably bring the views of their parents with them. I am more interested in the change of views after 4 years of college.

  4. - 2 Harrywr2 =

    Given the many possible explanations (no WsMD, terrible planning and execution of invasion of Iraq, the financial crisis, etc.), what evidence do you use to base your conclusion?

    It would seem to me that concern about conscription would rank every low on the list.

    Please note that what Roger sees as "increased polarization" seems mostly to come from an increase in identification as "liberal." Do you think that "liberal" students were more concerned about conscription than "conservative" students? Party ideology has changed, but in 1940, (under FDR), Democrats were more in favor of conscription than were Republicans.

  5. I think the 'polarization' in 2008 is simply a manifestation of the temporary Obama fad, just as the 1981 blip marked Reagan's election. It was more a pop culture phenom. than actual politics.

    Overall, since 1980, the numbers are surprisingly constant.

  6. Self-descriptions would be expected to stay fairly constant. The actual policy preferences could move dramatically in all kind of directions over the years, but most people will continue to be comfortable describing themselves in the middle.

  7. Far more people report themselves to be middle class than economists would allow for. I'm sure that many of those MOTR people are strongly against abortion, fine with gay marriage, or in favor of eliminating entire executive departments. The fact that self-reported results are consistent over years is not a virtue - it just obscures the truth all the more. Please remember - there is no science in social science.

  8. These stats are all 'self-identified' I have to assume.

    Question is, does a college student's answer to the question about their political orientation change in response to the general level of polarization in the political climate, or does it remain a fairly self-consistent?

    Are we measuring what we think we are measuring when we ask the question without any direct assessment of what the individuals actual views are?


  9. I suppose it's nearly impossible for 'liberals' or 'conservatives' to constitute more than 50% of the electorate when the other possibility is 'middle of the road'. The very existence of such a category requires that the fractions of liberals and conservatives can't change much over time no matter how much the actual political views change...they are by definition 'left of center' or 'right of center' and thus, in all meanings of the word, marginalized.

  10. 4. Joshua said...

    - 2 Harrywr2 =

    It would seem to me that concern about conscription would rank every low on the list.

    Having toured various college campuses in the time frame in question as a parent of a perspective college student a simple sampling of the various 'signage' would indicate possible 'conscription' was reasonably high on the list of 'college student' concerns at the time.

    As a parent of two children that had all expense paid 'vacations' to Iraq and one who had multiple all expense paid 'vacations' to Afghanistan I found the concern over conscription quite puzzling.

    Of course the best simplest way to 'energize a base' is to fill them with false fear, a game played by both ends of the political spectrum endlessly.

    As far as 'poor planning etc' in the history of the world there never has been a conflict that wasn't based on mis-calculation on the part of at least one of the participants.

    Adolph wrongly believed that the US isolationist and pacifist movements would prevent the US from entering WWII until at least 1948 by which time he would have firm control of all of Europe.

    Having served on a flag officers staff in the Middle East when Jimmy carter was president the 'Saddam Problem' was not something new that GWB happened to discover.

    The second largest military facility in the world after Fort Hood Texas is King Khalid Military City. It sits in Northern Saudi Arabia near the Iraq border and it's construction was authorized by Gerald Ford.