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Survey Suggests College Students' Political Views More Moderate

by Noel Egnatios, published
Student voters at Dartmouth


Pundits and pollsters focused on courting the youth vote might want to pay attention. A new study suggests young adults in America are more politically moderate, more tolerate of alternative lifestyles, and supportive of abortion rights.

The 2012 Freshman Survey, released last week by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIPR) at the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA, concluded there has been a statistically significant increase in college freshman who self-identified as politically “middle-of-the-road” instead of within the traditional “conservative” or “liberal” dichotomy. Tweet

The percentage of freshman declaring their political orientation to be “middle-of-the-road” grew from 43.3% in 2008 to 47.5% in 2012. This jump means that almost half of all respondents consider themselves politically moderate. Tweet stat: Tweet

The survey also measured students’ responses to various social issues. The most striking results concerned abortion and same-sex marriage.

61.1% of incoming first-year students now support the position that abortion should continue to be legal in the United States. This is an increase of 2.9 percentage points in 2012 as compared to 2008. Interestingly, much of the increase in support of abortion came from students identifying as “far right” or “conservative,” with 38.5% of these students agreeing abortion should be legal. This suggests more young people, across the political spectrum accept the idea that abortion is a legal right. Tweet stat: Tweet

Further, college students appear to overwhelmingly support the legality of same-sex marriage. Three quarters (75.0%) of all incoming first-year students reported supporting same-sex marriage in 2012. This figure increased 3.7 percentage points from 2011, when 71.3% of students indicated support. Comparatively, when the same question was asked in 1997, only half (50.9%) of all first-year students supported same-sex marriage. Tweet stat: Tweet

The increase in support for what might typically be considered liberal social positions on abortion and same-sex marriage indicates that young voters have adopted these as moderate social beliefs. Tolerance and women’s rights appear to have gone mainstream and become a generational norm.

For further information concerning the 2012 Freshman Survey, see the HERI website.


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