The notion of a liberal, monolithic student body on college campuses needs to change. Critics of higher education often take a stand against students’ left-wing biases, but the fact remains that the political hearts and minds of undergraduates are not aligned with any major political party.
While the students largely disapprove of the Republican Party, they are also not overwhelmingly supportive of the Democrats. Instead, the majority of students are independents and are unethical for any major party, suggesting that there exists a huge opportunity for whatever party is wise to pay attention to the growing number of Gen Xers in college today.
A new survey of over 1,500 college students across the country was conducted by us college pulse reveals a deep connection between the students and the two major parties. Most college students do not see themselves as Democrats or Republicans. Some 34% of polled students identify as strong or weak Democrats, and 11% claim to be strong or weak Republicans, leaving the majority, 54%, identifying as independents – which say that They still veer toward a party, or something else entirely. There are notably more Democrats in private schools (41%) than in public institutions (31%), but Democrats are not dominant on most campuses today.
Furthermore, collegiate statistics show that students are no more democratic than the rest of the country. at the national level, About 33% of registered voters identify as Democrats, 3 in 10 (29%) identify as Republicans, and the remainder (34%) are independents. Although college students are less likely to be Republican and more likely to be centrist, they are not necessarily more left-wing than the rest of the country.
Some fields of study have a higher proportion of Democrats, as they may attract students who focus more on politics and activism than others. But once again, the data reveals a far greater balance than many believe. Only 38% of those majoring in the humanities, arts and various field studies – the departments that are most progressive and worker-oriented – are Democrats, while 9% are Republicans. Most of the students in these fields are somewhere in between. Students in the performing and visual arts tend to lean more Democratic, but about 40% do not identify with any major party.
Moving beyond the humanities, 29% of students majoring in a business or allied field such as accounting or management identify as Democrats, 17% as Republicans, and the majority (52%) are in the middle. Engineers and computer scientists look very similar: 29% are Democrats, 13% are Republicans, and the majority (58%) are centrists. For those studying economics and social science, only 27% are Democrats and 15% are Republicans. Again, the majority (58%) of students in these fields are in the middle. In the population of the campus compared to many observers, students are far less captive to any party.
The Republican Party has clearly alienated many college students. Still, most of these students have not gone to the Democratic Party. In fact, most students dislike both parties: only 10% think the Republican Party is headed in the right direction, and only 18% say the same is true for Democrats.
College and university students generally appear pessimistic about both sides. Some 60% said they are very or somewhat pessimistic about the future of the Republican Party; 41% felt the same way about the Democratic Party. 2020 US National Election Studies found that 47% of Gen Xers said There was no party representing his views reasonably well and they were less likely to regard traditional politics as part of their identity. Our research and polling shows that this generation wants a voice but no party has done enough to join them.
As Gen Xers mature, they become a larger part of the electorate and thus are critically important to parties as the Silent Generation (people over 80) and Boomers die or are out of the political world. go. Liberal pragmatism and greater efforts to engage with them now may be a better strategy with these voters than the rigid ideologies they are already rejecting.
Jeremy Suri is Professor of Public Affairs and History at the University of Texas at Austin. Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a non-resident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.