Polarized political views

yan Loew

A 2004 study shows more students identifying themselves at the political extremes

Credit: Andrew popik

Heading left or going right, more college freshmen are becoming increasingly polarized in their political beliefs, according to a study by the Higher Education Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The study, which focused on college freshmen in Fall 2004, stated 26.1 percent of students identified themselves as liberal, while 21.9 percent labeled themselves conservative. Both numbers are up from last year, and those who labeled themselves as “middle of the road” dropped from 50.3 percent to 46.4 percent.

Kent State students and professors are noticing.

“I think it tends to follow the general trends of the country,” said Kevin Hodar, senior political science major and recruitment director for the College Democrats. In “today’s world, people tend to be more polarized than 10 years ago.”

More students are labeling themselves as “far left,” 3.4 percent, and 2.2 percent are designating their politics as “far right.” Despite seemingly small numbers, the study reported, these percentages reflect a significant increase in the amount of students identifying themselves with political extremes.

Thomas Yantek, an associate professor of Political Science, said he is skeptical of such percentages, which may simply be because of the recent presidential campaign.

“Those may be short term manifestations of this antipathy towards the Bush administration. Last year in particular, with the Bush campaign, I did sense a bit of a ground swell on the part of democratic/liberal politics,” Yantek said. “I think it’s a reflection of a genuine sense of opposition to Bush policy.

“I don’t notice the polarization as much as I do the swings. There have been years where I’ve seen more conservative swings.”

The number of freshmen who frequently “discussed politics” increased from 22.5 percent in 2003 to 25.5 percent in 2004 — the highest point reached since President Clinton was first elected to office in 1992, the study reported.

“People are open to ideas,” said Tim Miller, a senior history major and member of the College Republicans. “More people are open to talk about politics than ever before. I just wish that would have carried over into the recent student elections.”

A student’s political affiliation is “very much related to the family background,” said instructor of sociology Denzel Benson.

High school students in an election year are highly likely to share the same political views as their parents, he said. For example, high school students participating in a mock-election will most likely “vote” the same way their parents would.

But as these students enter college the trend diverges, Benson said, many college freshmen develop political views different from their parents.

That doesn’t necessarily make students’ views polarized.

“American society is not polarized but more politicized,” he said. “There’s actually not a great split on issues.”

Contact administration reporter Ryan Loew at [email protected].