Study: Freshmen Exhibit Newfound Political Interest

    This academic year’s entering freshmen are discussing politics at a higher rate than at any point in the past 40 years and are becoming increasingly polarized in their political views, with fewer students self-identifying as moderate, according to the results of UCLA’s annual survey of the nation’s incoming undergraduates.

    Erik Jepsen/Guardian
    Students listen to a lecture from political science professor Victor V. Magagna. The number of freshmen enrolling at UCSD as political science majors has increased over the past few years.

    The survey, initiated in 1966 and conducted through the Higher Education Institute at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, found that approximately 34 percent of freshmen reported actively discussing politics as high school seniors.

    Moreover, the results demonstrated that about 43 percent of freshmen self-identified as “”middle-of-the-road”” — the lowest mark since 1970 — and that the number of students who self-identified as “”liberal”” (about 28 percent) was at its highest level since 1975, while the number of students who self-identified as “”conservative”” (about 24 percent) was at its highest point in the history of the survey.

    At UCSD, freshmen interest in political science has continued to increase over the past few years, according to Assistant Vice Chancellor of Admissions and Registration Mae W. Brown.

    The campus had 151, 175 and 217 freshmen enroll as political science majors in fall 2004, 2005 and 2006, respectively. For fall 2007, 2,041 freshmen applied as political science majors, Brown stated in an e-mail.

    In addition to being asked about political beliefs, freshmen were surveyed about their views on several social and political issues, including gay marriage, abortion and affirmative action. The findings highlighted a widening gap between liberals and conservatives.

    The survey, which asked whether or not gay and lesbian couples should “”have the right to legal marital status,”” showed that about 84 percent of liberals support marriage equality, while about 30 percent of conservatives shared the same view.

    The results were no surprise to Shaun Travers, the director of UCSD’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center.

    “”Obviously, not all liberals support marriage equality and not all conservatives support marriage equality,”” Travers said. “”But on this campus, there is rarely visible political action against marriage equality.””

    According to the survey, approximately 78 percent of liberals support legalized abortion, while about 32 percent of conservatives and about 56 percent of “”middle-of-the-road”” students answered similarly.

    Affirmative action proved to be the least polarizing political issue among freshmen, with about 53 percent of conservatives saying that affirmative action in college admissions should be abolished, compared to about 45 percent of liberals.

    Clear differences emerged regarding other political issues as well. For example, 48 percent of liberals, versus approximately 23 percent of conservatives, supported abolishing the death penalty; about 53 percent of liberals, versus about 24 percent of conservatives, supported legalizing marijuana; and approximately 84 percent of liberals, versus 57 percent of conservatives, said that they would vote for a national health plan.

    John Muir College senior and UCSD College Democrats President Carmen Lo said that she has noticed a definite increase in freshman participation in the organization this year, but indicated that participation is still not as high as she would like it to be.

    “”I still don’t think local activism is that high,”” Lo said. “”You can notice the difference at UCSD if you compare us to Berkeley or even to UCLA.””

    UCSD College Republicans, however, has seen little freshman involvement this year, according to Muir sophomore and CR Secretary Eric Tsai.

    “”We didn’t have a lot of freshmen come into the club this year,”” Tsai said. “”We’re trying to increase the level of publicity through tabling, which will hopefully increase freshman involvement.””

    The survey was based on the responses of 271,441 freshmen at 393 campuses across the nation.

    Readers can contact Matthew McArdle at [email protected].

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