Are college students solidly left, leaning right, or what? It depends on who you ask.
The right loves to claim campuses as "increasingly conservative" but also loves to perpetuate the belief that campuses are "liberal strongholds." Many on the left proudly claim that the "kids are alright" (or rather, "all left"), while the more cynical set (me among them) thinks that the right — which has taken over all three branches of government, not to mention a substantial portion of the media — is making serious headway on campuses.
Much of my thinking on this topic is informed by Harvard's Institute of Politics, which puts out the most comprehensive poll on student politics twice a year. This year's findings, while more hopeful than any other in recent years, are still a mixed bag.
The Good News:
The Strange News:
The Not So Good News:
For the most part, at least according to these numbers, the kids appear to be alright. Sorta. Obviously students, like the rest of the country, are steadily turning against Bush and the Iraq war. But distrust of Bush doesn't equal progressive. The IOP's findings, to me, reflect something that is perhaps equally as troubling as a "rise of the right" on campuses: the increasing appeal of centrism. Youth are supposed to have ideals and principles; the last thing the world needs is a rising generation of equivocators.
Of course, it's also sensible to take this poll with a grain of salt. The IOP is an incredibly establishment institution and its director is DLC-darling Jeanne Shaheen.
By Sam Graham-Felson
Reprinted with permission from The Nation