This story was written by Mallory Cybulski, Badger Herald
College students become increasingly liberal within their first three years of college, according to a recent study.University of California-Los Angeles researchers surveyed 15,000 students from a national pool about their partisan viewpoints. Survey questions were administered once in 2004 when the students were freshmen, and again in 2007.The purpose of the study was to determine any significant changes in partisan viewpoints during college and to challenge the belief that university faculty are responsible for such changes.According to the study, the majority of students took more liberal positions on key political issues concerning gay marriage, religion and abortion. Researchers determined that these trends were mostly caused by peer group influences.I think its necessary to stress that these were not radical or dramatic changes; its only about a 10 percent difference, said Donald Downs, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin. However, it is my guess that peer groups are primarily responsible for these changes because peer groups are more important to students within a day-by-day basis.Downs said college students are more exposed to liberal students who are vocal about their viewpoints on campuses. Most students experience a more liberal environment at college than they did at home during their high school years.They start to identify as (college) students and move away from where they started. Its a very natural progression, Downs said.Claire Rydell, chair of the University of Wisconsin College Democrats, said students do not become more liberal simply because they are pressured to do so. Instead, they are influenced by peer groups who make them more aware of what is going on in the world.They are simply out of the house, their parents views are no longer as involved and they can now make those decisions for themselves, Rydell said. There is a kind of community feel at college having people around you who are interested in the same thing makes you want to be more involved.According to the study, though peer groups were cited as the primary decision-making factor, the influence of politically leftist college professors was also taken into consideration.According to Downs, the lack of intellectual diversity on campus is a problem because students are not exposed to enough conservative viewpoints from their peers and in the classroom.UW College Republicans Chair Sara Mikolajczak said she knows many previous Republicans who are now hard-core liberals due to college influences.There are faculty members who only present one side of any given issue, and thats always what they view as the correct side, Mikolajczak said. That side is always the liberal side.Downs said though professors try to be responsible, there are always outliers.In this example, outliers tend to be more on the left than on the right, he said. However, I dont think that its an overwhelming problem because students tend to look at faculty with an appropriately wary eye to begin with.Students surveyed were shown to become less liberal in the years after graduation, the study said.Downs attributes this to post-graduation peer groups based less on idealistic beliefs and more on the practical pressures of the real world.When you get older you have more to lose, Downs added. Youre now dealing with the world where there are a lot of hard choices, which make you less idealistic. In maturity, idealism becomes tempered by a sense of tradition and realism.