Religious students avoid conservative identification

AUSTIN, Texas (U-WIRE) — Students are moving away from the center of the political spectrum, though more students are likely to identify themselves as moderate, according to a study released by the Spirituality in Higher Education project.

“These findings show that our popular stereotypes about political labels don’t always match the facts. Despite the students’ beliefs on these core issues, students are largely not identifying themselves as liberal or conservative,” said Alexander Astin, UCLA professor and project coordinator.

According to the survey, the majority of Christian groups maintain the same conservative views on important political topics, but fewer identify themselves as conservative.

Raye Morello of the Lutheran Campus Ministry claims that few want to be called conservative.

“There are certain connotations that come with conservative that are avoided if you identify yourself as a moderate,” Morello said. “Moderate” to some means easy to get along with, whereas “conservative” may not, he said.

The word conservative is clearly being redefined, as it has been politicized to regard politics more than religion, said Cary Ard of Christians on Campus.

“In the secular sense, conservatism would be defined more in the sense of family values and traditional family roles,” Ard said. “In a religious sense, conservatism is looked at as how strictly you adhere to the Bible.”

The images associated with conservatives are not far from the stereotypes presented in the media, said Robert Woodberry, an assistant professor of sociology in religion at UT.

“People don’t want to be associated with the stereotype that conservatives are sometimes intolerant, (so people) may try to distance themselves from the stereotype,” Woodberry said. “Even if they avoid the label, this doesn’t change their congregation or the beliefs they hold.”

The stereotype presented most often in the media is less than appealing, Woodberry said.

“Images of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson can be aggressive in terms of what they think and how issues should be promoted,” Woodberry said.

The study showed, however, that while the demographics of the political identity changed, very little changed in term of personal beliefs.

The study polled students on their political beliefs and also asked for their religious affiliation. It showed the most conservative religious groups to be Baptists, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and evangelicals, and the most liberal religious groups to be Buddhists, Jews and Unitarians.

The survey based these labels on preference towards issues ranging from the decriminalization of marijuana to the legalization of gay marriage.