Over a four-day period in early winter 2003, the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) conducted an Internet study of the attitudes and political ideologies of today’s college students. We collected 727 Internet surveys from a nationally representative sample of men and women between the ages of 18 and 24 providing fascinating insight into the 2004 Presidential Election, George W. Bush’s job performance, and ideological diversity in the classroom.
An overwhelming majority of college students are registered, or plan to register, to vote before the 2004 Presidential Election. Seventy-four percent of respondents in the national survey are currently registered to vote. Of those not yet registered, 57 percent say they definitely (31 percent) or probably (26 percent) will register to vote before the 2004 election. Contrary to stereotypes, the 18- to 24-year-old population are not sitting in their dorm rooms wallowing in apathy. They are participating. When asked how likely they are to vote in the upcoming election, 84 percent said they would absolutely (51 percent) or probably (33 percent) go to the polls.
College students are generally interested in the 2004 Presidential Election. More than half (52 percent) of respondents say they are either extremely or highly interested in the 2004 Presidential Election. The 18- to 24-year-old demographic is not one to be ignored during candidates’ campaigning.
President George W. Bush has a strong approval rating among students. When asked whether they approve “of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as President,” fully half (50 percent) approve. Twenty-five percent of students state they “strongly disapprove” of President Bush’s handling of his job. It is important to note this survey was conducted before the capture of Saddam Hussein and before the President’s trip to Baghdad over Thanksgiving.
The economy and job market will be a major factor for students when they head to the polls in November. Forty percent of students agree that job creation and economic growth is “the single most important issue.” When asked why they chose this issue, students freely discussed the importance of having a strong economy as they prepare to graduate and enter the workforce. A sophomore woman writes, “I’m in college to be able to get a good paying job. Whereas other things are important to me also, I need to know that I am not spending thousands of dollars a year for an education that I won’t be able to use.”
And a male in his junior year says, “Because I will be entering the workforce in a few years and it would be nice to be able to find a job. And, it is absolutely imperative for our country to become more stable in order to ensure economic growth and success of our capitalist society.”
Students report their professors lean liberal. More than one-third of respondents report their professors to be either very liberal (12 percent) or somewhat liberal (25 percent). This is in stark contrast to the 13 percent of students who characterize their professors as conservative. Nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of students state their professors express their political views during class. Judging by what students say, ideological diversity doesn’t exist in the classroom and too many professors use more propaganda than professorial.
Students are less likely to speak up in class when they know their professor’s political views differ from their own. When asked, “How comfortable are you expressing your political views during class? 68 percent say they are comfortable. However, when the question changes to, “How comfortable are you expressing your political views during class where your views differ from the professor’s views?” a full 10 percent change their answer. One-third (32 percent) of students surveyed agree that when a professor’s views are contrary to theirs, they are uncomfortable speaking up in class.
Too many students are forced to check their intellectual and philosophical honesty at the door in order to get good grades. Sixteen percent of respondents say they feared their grade could suffer for disagreeing with a professor’s political point of view. This fear also leads to lower classroom participation, as nearly one-quarter (23 percent) say they have been afraid to speak up in class because they did not agree with the professor. And nearly one-third (31 percent) say they have been required to take a philosophical position they were uncomfortable with for an assignment. Free, open, and honest discussion is being hindered by professors’ biased opinions.