Poll results examining political tendencies among college students were released on August 23 by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
The team conducted face-to-face polling of 1,246 students at 16 university campuses across North Carolina. Approximately three-quarters of the students who stopped and talked to these researchers self-identified as politically independent from the Republican or Democratic party, suggesting younger voters prefer nonpartisan politics.
Students were initially asked, “Regardless of how you vote, do you consider yourself an independent?” If a student answered yes, researchers continued the poll.
This is the first university-sponsored survey to specifically examine independent voters in North Carolina and was coordinated by Omar H. Ali, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Greensboro associate professor and director of Graduate Studies in the African-American Studies Program.
A total of 21 questions were asked including why students identified as independents, what they thought of the Republican and Democratic parties, and their knowledge of the electoral process.
When students were asked why they became an independent, 82.6 percent said they either don't want to be labeled, aren't adequately represented by parties, or both. Sixty-two percent agreed or somewhat agreed that they are independent because they don't like political parties, and 90.7 percent believe the political parties' control of Congress is problematic.
Other interesting findings include 71.3 percent agreeing or somewhat agreeing that their educational experience so far has made it seem as if the only way to participate in politics is as a Republican or Democrat. Students were near evenly split on whether the Republican and Democratic parties are government institutions or private organizations, and 81 percent of students were not aware that 40 percent of Americans now identify as independent.
Respondents also strongly supported structural political reforms, with 89.6 percent agreeing the FEC should include at least one independent and 94.3 percent stating that independents should be allowed to vote in all publicly-funded primaries.
The team of researchers offered the following list of five recommendations to University of North Carolina President Thomas Ross, University of North Carolina at Greensboro Chancellor Linda Brady, and Gilford County School Superintendent Maurice Green.
First, greater civic engagement among students rests on efforts to welcome new ways of learning about politics and history. Toward this end, courses in history, government, and public policy that include the existence of independent voters should be encouraged:
Second, the analytical models, language, and frameworks currently used in secondary education and college assume bipartisanship and are less attentive to emerging patterns. Greater amounts of interdisciplinary research that look at qualitative changes in our political culture should be encouraged.
Additionally, whether at the state or federal level, when it comes to discussions regarding governance, emphasis should be made on nonpartisanship, as opposed to bipartisanship. The latter excludes the plurality of Americans who are neither Democrats nor Republicans.
Educational workshops on the electoral process should also be offered across the state on UNC campuses for the general public so that North Carolinians are better informed about the mechanisms that drive public policy in both the state and the nation.
Finally, a UNC-wide conference should be held before the next U.S. presidential election that brings together student leaders, public policy experts, and the general public to discuss nonpartisan structural reforms.