North Dakota’s College Students May Not Be as Liberal as You Think

First year students at North Dakota State University gathered on the campus green on the first day of classes Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Photo special to The Forum.

The perception of America’s college campuses – a perception very much grounded in reality, I believe – is that they’re very liberal places. From the administrators to the faculty to the students themselves, our campuses lean left.

How true is that here in North Dakota? I think it’s fair to say that the administrators and the faculty are overwhelmingly liberal. One anecdote supporting that argument is an analysis of political giving at NDSU which found not a single reportable contribution to a Republican during the 2018 election cycle.

But what about the students?

According to a survey conducted by assistant professor Kjersten Nelson and professor Nicholas Bauroth, both of NDSU, you might be surprised to learn that North Dakota’s students aren’t as liberal as you might think they are.

At least, that was my reaction. You can read the whole survey, which included some 2,000 participants, below. Here are some highlights from a write up in the NDSU student newspaper:

While their views on taxes fit the Republican mold, with a strong plurality supporting the tax reform bill signed by President Donald Trump, the rest of the categories fell on a more liberal bias. Students supported assault rifle bans and legal abortion. Trump received a 57.6 percent disapproval rating among college students, and overall students disapproved of the Brett Kavanaugh appointment.

Bauroth said he was not surprised by these numbers either. “All and all, students, college students are probably going to be a little more liberal than the general population,” Bauroth said. This dichotomy is also shown in some tangible results. 57.1 percent of respondents said they voted for Heidi Heitkamp versus the statewide results that had her at 44.3 percent. Rep. Kelly Armstrong just edged out his opponent with 50.7 percent of students supporting him in this survey, a number that falls behind the state by 10 percentage points.

Demographically speaking college students are young, and young people tend to be more leftist in their views. People tend to get more conservative in their views as they age.

Also true is that college students also tend to skew very female, and since North Dakota doesn’t produce enough children to keep our bloated 11-campus university system full, a lot of these students aren’t from North Dakota. I’m not sure what any of that means in terms of this survey, but they were things I was thinking as I read them.

I was surprised to see a plurality of support for the Trump tax cuts. I was also surprised to see Kelly Armstrong get a slight majority of support even as former Senator Heidi Heitkamp received a strong majority.

And, though these were minority viewpoints, the 42.4% support for Trump, 44.4 percent support for repealing Obamacare, 41.5 percent support for Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination, and 41.9 percent opposition to an “assault weapons ban” all surprised me too.

I’m not at all surprised that North Dakota’s college students lean left. Heck, I leaned left at that age. The first presidential election I could vote in was in 2000 and I cast a ballot for Al Gore.

What is surprising is that the lean isn’t as pronounced as I thought it would be.

Anyway, I thought this table showing how this sample of North Dakota students voted in the midterm election was pretty interesting. Especially the sharp differences among the campuses. Just a reminder, Measure 1 was the ethics measure on last year’s ballot. Measure 2 was the ban on non-citizen voting. Measure 3 would have legalized recreational marijuana:

Here’s the full survey:

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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