Phi Beta Cons

College Freshmen Are . . . Moderates?!

Yet more evidence that the times, they are a changin’. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a survey of this year’s college freshmen, with some surprising results for all involved. The statistics on political affiliation are especially interesting, as they show a narrowing gap between self-identified conservatives and self-identified liberals, not to mention mammoth political opportunity for the Right. According to these statistics, only 2.9 percent of students identify as “Far Left,” while 27.3 percent identify as liberal. The conservative side is smaller, but not by such a wide margin, with 1.8 percent of students identifying as “Far Right” and 21.7 percent identifying as “conservative.” The remainder — a whopping 46.4 percent of students — identify as “moderate.”

This is the progressive generation that is supposed to usher in an age of enlightened European style rule? A group where self-described liberals and Leftists outnumber conservatives and hard Rightists (not sure what this last one means) by only about 6 points, and where a massive plurality of students don’t want to be pigeonholed? That old saying that “He who is not liberal at 20 has no heart and he who is not conservative at 40 has no brain” is starting to sound awfully unflattering. Nearly 70 percent of today’s college freshmen apparently have no heart!

And lest you think these numbers were changed by including a massive number of community college students, the statistics don’t bear that out either. Over 90 percent of those surveyed said they planned to get at least a bachelor’s degree, with over 70 percent planning to pursue advanced degrees beyond the bachelor’s. And of possible majors, the most popular were business, biological science, health professions, and engineering, with social science coming up a dismal fifth and humanities, English, and fine arts netting a pathetic combined score of about 10 percent. If these statistics hold, what will today’s graduate schools do when forced to confront this influx of reactionary, practical students?

Yet there’s troubling news in the statistics as well. Nearly 80 percent of the students agreed that the government wasn’t doing enough to control environmental pollution, with a similar number supporting the rights of gays and lesbians to adopt children. National health-care plans, anti-global-warming policy, higher taxes on the wealthy, and gun control received over 60 percent support. However, in an interesting shift, affirmative action couldn’t net majority support, and the idea of raising taxes to reduce the deficit netted a dismal 33 percent support. In other words, when you removed the questions from the realm of progressive abstractions and put them in the realm of policies that either have affected the students (affirmative action) or will affect their families (increased taxes), conservative answers started to win. While the implications of the survey are ominous for what college students consider to be “moderate,” they can also be encouraging once those students start to realize the real world consequences of their commitments.


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