How the GOP Can Win College Students: A New Survey Offers Hope

July 21st, 2009 at 11:45 pm | 22 Comments |

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Alexis Hamilton contributed to the writing of this article.

How do college students feel about the Republican Party? Has this attitude changed in recent years? What do college students like most about the Republican Party? Least?

We ask these questions not because we are recent graduates who would have appreciated Republican company on campus, but because of the growing political importance of this demographic. The rate of college attendance in America is steadily increasing, with nearly 39 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds completing college or enrolled in a degree-granting institution in 2005. Moreover, it seems probable that a voter’s political inclinations are solidified in college and will persist after graduation: Most Americans don’t change their party affiliation after age 24.

Additionally, college students hit above their demographic weight because they are campaign foot soldiers, the future leaders of the government and big business, and they are more likely to vote than the non-college-educated.

The College-Educated and The Young

Unfortunately, very few surveys examine the political attitudes of college students, but by looking at the behaviors of college-educated voters of all ages and the youth vote, we can make some reasonable predictions about college students—an intersection of these two groups.

David Frum, Michael Barone, and others have pointed out that college-educated Americans are filing out of the Republican Party. In 1988, George H. W. Bush won the college-educated vote by 25 percentage points, but in 2008, the majority of college graduates voted for Barack Obama.

This downward trend is also visible with voters under 30—a demographic that comprises roughly 18 percent of the electorate. In 1984 and 1988, the Republicans won the majority of voters under 30.  Even in 2004, when young voters seemed the sworn enemies of George W. Bush, the Republican Party still won 45 percent of their votes in the presidential election.

But in 2008, the dam broke. Only one out of every three young Americans voted for Republican Presidential candidate John McCain.

These trends make it likely that the Republican Party is not thriving on college campuses, but we hoped that surveying students at a variety of universities would shed some light on how the Party might court these voters.

The Republican Party at Tulane and Yale

We first looked for some answers at Tulane University and Yale University.  At both schools, we surveyed 90 undergraduate students on their attitudes toward the Republican Party (special thanks to Matthew Scully, Tulane class of 2011, and Max Rosett, Yale class of 2012, for their assistance). True to the stereotype, students at Tulane and Yale seem to have no limit to their dislike of the Republican Party. But, beyond the anticipated antipathy toward the Republican Party, the results provide constructive ideas about how Republicans can start polishing their image to attract the college-educated.

***

The following scores are presented as:

[Issue Importance Rating // Issue Importance Ranking  ::  Party Performance Rating // Party Performance Ranking]

Issue Importance Rating (1 – Not Important; 10 – Highly Important)

Issue Importance Ranking (1 – Most Important; 25 – Least Important)

Party Performance Rating (1 – Poor Performance; 10 – Great Performance)

Party Performance Ranking (1 – Best Performance; 25 – Worst Performance)

***

The Four Es: Economy, Education, Energy, Environment.

Economy. Tulane — [8.59 // 1 :: 4.22 // 20] Yale — [8.16 // 2 :: 3.50 // 20]

That the economy ranks as one of the most important issues should come as no surprise. The majority of students at Tulane and Yale said the economy was “highly important,” which makes sense—after four years and a substantial investment of time and money, students want to have both a degree and serious job prospects in hand. Unfortunately, most students at Tulane and Yale do not consider the Party a competent steward of the economy, giving Republicans “poor performance” ratings in this area.

Education. Tulane — [8.40 // 2 :: 4.34 // 18]  Yale — [8.61 // 1 :: 4.16 // 13]

The second “E” is education. Yale students gave education the top spot in issue importance ranking and those at Tulane said it was the second most important issue of the 25. In the free-response sections, students expressed dissatisfaction with “No Child Left Behind,” a program considered by many to be a hallmark of the Republican Party.  Others, however, noted their approval of the Republican promotion of expanded school choice through vouchers and charter programs.

Energy. Tulane — [7.39 // 8 :: 4.22 // 21]  Yale — [7.62 // 7 :: 3.47 // 21]

Environment — [7.45 // 6 :: 3.72 // 24]  Yale — [7.58 // 9 :: 3.05 // 23]

As evidenced by the Presidential debates, energy policy and the environment have moved to center stage.  To win students at Tulane and Yale, the Republican Party needs to appreciate the importance of these issues and develop clear policy objectives.

National Defense, at Home and Abroad

Military Strength. Tulane — [6.38 // 19 :: 6.66 // 1]  Yale — [5.78 // 21 :: 6.59 // 1]

National Security. Tulane — [7.47 // 5 :: 6.16 // 2]  Yale — [7.58 // 8 :: 5.35 // 4]

International Relations. Tulane — [7.63 // 4 :: 5.02 // 8]  Yale — [7.68 // 5 :: 3.81 // 16]

This is not the generation of Vietnam—the Republican Party did not lose the college vote in 2008 because of a disagreement over military matters.  Students at both Tulane and Yale approved of the Republican Party’s position on national security and military strength, and despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, international relations comfortably avoided the bottom of the policy ranking.

Social Issues

According to conventional wisdom, college students and the Republican Party are furthest separated by differing attitudes on social issues. The surveys from Tulane and Yale suggest that this is largely accurate, but of the five social issues assessed (abortion, gay rights, religion, social values, scientific development), two in particular deserve the Party’s immediate attention: gay rights and scientific development.

Gay Rights. Tulane — [6.30 // 21 :: 3.23 // 25]  Yale — [6.34 // 17 :: 2.59 // 25]

Scientific Development. Tulane — [7.11 // 12 :: 3.89 // 23]  Yale — [7.69 // 4 ::  3.67 // 18]

Gay rights doesn’t rank high on the importance scales of either school, but on no other issue is there such broad-sweeping discontent with the Party. The issue ranks dead last on Party performance for both Tulane and Yale, and even self-identified Republicans don’t celebrate the Party’s position on the issue—Republicans at Tulane gave the Party its worst score (5 out of 10) on gay rights. The Party’s stance on scientific development is slightly less reviled, but students rank it higher in importance than other social issues.

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22 Comments so far ↓

  • barker13

    I believe we should start by telling our “kids” the truth, namely, that in large part – particularly with regard to the liberal arts – a college education is just a confidence game used to redistribute wealth from students and parents to colleges.

    I mean… tell these kids the frigg’n truth! Tell ‘em that they’ve just spent (or their parents have just spent) tens of thousand of dollars (and often more than that) to buy at best an admission ticket to any interview for an entry level job that they don’t really need their college “education” for in the first place.

    I truly believe that youth responds to honesty. The problem: Most people shy away from the unpleasantness of honesty.

    BILL

  • sinz54

    barker13: That’s absurd.

    You may think they don’t “need” their college education–but without college on their resumes, they won’t even get an interview from a prospective employer.

    These days, young Americans are also competing for white-collar jobs with highly educated immigrants from Asia and Southwest Asia. Travel to Silicon Valley sometime and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

  • sinz54

    Look, the Republican Party has consciously written off young Americans in Ivy League colleges. It won’t succeed with them until it recognizes the need for a big tent in which Republicans don’t all agree on every issue, particularly on social issues.

    These young people in your survey have it right: The GOP, as it’s currently constituted, is anti-gay, anti-sex, anti-environmentalism, and anti-science. Most of that is reflected in the GOP Platform, whose only mention of gays is calling for a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage, and in which the best recommendation the GOP had on the environment was to maintain the National Park System.

    Αnd that won’t change until the GOP makes a conscious decision to go all-out to win back the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, even if that means running socially liberal candidates there. That it would rather have a social moderate Republican occupying a seat in those regions, than let that seat fall to a Dem.

    That would seem to be a no-brainer. But to the GOP base, it’s not. On RedState.com just today, they made it clear that they insist on running staunch doctrinaire conservatives in places like New York State. And if those conservatives lose to Democrats, well, to hell with New York anyway.

  • andydp

    So…

    The solution for getting the GOP back into campuses is to… attack the campuses.

    Denying the GOP is losing the “college vote” will not make it come back on its own. The GOP’s current tactic of becoming more marginalized by embracing more conservative viewpoints on issues college people are concerned with will ensure its relegation to the wilderness for many years.

    The GOP is risking becoming the modern embodiment of Philip II of Spain: ” No experience of the failure of its policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.”

  • ottovbvs

    ……..In the last election if memory serves me correctly Obama won the 19-29 vote by about a 35% margin……..short of cataclysms most of these folks are going Democratic for the rest of their lives…….I have little doubt on present trends that when the next election comes around he’ll capture s a similar share…..I’m not sure this not very scientific survey tells us much we didn’t know already although the authors are to be congratulated on conducting it……In short the young by a huge majority are in favor of a mass of policy positions that the Republican party is totally opposed to. Many of these are in the soft social area like gender issues, abortion, religiosity but many are in hard areas like science, the environment, universal healthcare etc. ………Now sure:

    ” the results provide constructive ideas about how Republicans can start polishing their image to attract the college-educated.”

    ………But the “polishing” is going to require the wholesale rejection of a host of beliefs and policy positions that have become holy writ in the Republican party and even much more so amongst it’s base……..and there’s the rub

  • sricher

    Maybe it doesn’t teach us anything new… But if everyone has known it for so many years, than why has nobody done anything about it? It’s time to put some hard data in front of people.

  • Washington Planner » Wednesday Required Reading

    [...] New Majority wonders if the GOP can win college students [...]

  • barker13

    Re: Sinz54 // Jul 22, 2009 at 10:48 am –

    “barker13: That’s absurd.”

    No it’s not, Sinz, and insisting “it’s absurd” doesn’t make it so.

    For perhaps the 50th time allow me to recommend to you (and anyone else interested in the topic) Charles Murray’s “Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality”

    (*QUOTING*) (re: http://www.aei.org/book/958)

    “Too many people are going to college. Almost everyone should get training beyond high school, but the number of students who want, need, or can profit from four years of residential education at the college level is a fraction of the number of young people who are struggling to get a degree. We have set up a standard known as the BA, stripped it of its traditional content, and made it an artificial job qualification. Then we stigmatize everyone who doesn’t get one. For most of America’s young people, today’s college system is a punishing anachronism.”

    Now, Sinz, I know from the months we’ve been blogging that you’re fairly closed-minded and not much for reading books that might challenge your beliefs, but for Christ’s sake… CHARLES Frigg’n MURRAY, Sinz.

    And Murray’s not alone, Sinz.

    “You may think they don’t “need” their college education–but without college on their resumes, they won’t even get an interview from a prospective employer.”

    (Folks… is it me…???)

    Sinz. Re-read my original post. You’re point to one of the PROBLEMS I addressed – that we’ve made a college degree an artificial requirement for an interview, for an interview for an entry level job that doesn’t in any technical sense actually require the “knowledge” of a (especially) liberal arts grad.

    Anyway… (*SIGH*)… I know it’s your self-imposed limitations that lead to these outbursts – so I don’t take it personally – but for God’s sake, expand your horizons a bit.

    “These days, young Americans are also competing for white-collar jobs with highly educated immigrants from Asia and Southwest Asia. Travel to Silicon Valley sometime and you’ll see what I’m talking about.”

    (Again… folks… is it me…???) (Three short paragraphs – THREE – and Sinz obviously failed to comprehend anything I wrote.) (*SIGH*)

    Re: Andydp // Jul 22, 2009 at 11:01 am –

    “So… The solution for getting the GOP back into campuses is to… attack the campuses.”

    Not quite. Again… S*L*O*W*L*Y for those of you with reading comprehension deficits…

    We tell our kids the truth; verify what they surely know themselves.

    What… you don’t think the average liberal arts undergrad UNDERSTANDS that his or her education was “padded” and the pathway to a degree overly long and overly expensive?

    Didn’t YOU realize this when you were in college…??? I surely did. All of my peers did. (*SHRUG*)

    And now… you don’t think the latest crop of liberal arts grads with thousands of thousands of dollars worth of loan repayments staring them in the face aren’t a bit peeved as they’re being told that there are few jobs for them even though they’ve done all they were told they had to do…??? (*SHRUG*)

    OK. Perhaps you’re talking to different kids than I am.

    “…issues college people are concerned with…”

    You mean like getting jobs upon graduation that will allow them to start their “adult” lives (not moving back in with mommy and daddy) while repaying their student loans? Again… THAT’S the issue recent college grads and those now in their junior and senior years are “concerned” with.

    Now if you’re talking “political” concerns… perhaps the way to approach that is to explain to college kids that a great deal of what the “think” they know and what they’ve been taught (in terms of Leftist bias) is just plain wrong. We need to push our kids – starting in middle school – to do independent research and not “follow the herd” with regard to “political correctness.” Hey… kids are conformist AND rebellious at the same time – I believe if we focus on the later we can open the door to future “ideological” victories; lead the “horse” to “water” and the “horse” will “drink.”

    “The GOP’s current tactic of becoming more marginalized by embracing more conservative viewpoints…”

    (*SIGH*)

    Again… McCain was “our” candidate. He did worse with “youth” than Bush had. (*SHRUG*)

    “The GOP is risking becoming the modern embodiment of Philip II of Spain: ” No experience of the failure of its policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.””

    Ha! Ha! That’s exactly how I look upon you after reading your comments. (*SHRUG*) Not an insult… simply an observation.

    Re: Sricher // Jul 22, 2009 at 12:54 pm –

    Momentum. Resistance to change. Group think. (*SHRUG*)

    Again… to be clear… it’s not a question of college teaching us nothing new; it’s a question of cost/benefit, the law of unintended consequences, and how best to remake the present system into something better.

    Sricher. If you’re interested in education policy, I truly and sincerely recommend Murray’s “Real Education.”

    BILL

  • sinz54

    ottovbvs sez: “But the ‘polishing’ is going to require the wholesale rejection of a host of beliefs and policy positions ”

    Not necessarily.

    It doesn’t require existing loyal Republicans to abandon their cherished beliefs “wholesale.”

    It does require them to abandon their litmus tests and “RINO” epithets, and welcome into the party young Americans who might disagree with them on a couple of issues–but who still agree with the party’s basic philosophy of less obtrusive government.

    It requires them to stop purging–yes, they call it purging–anyone who dares to disagree with them on any issue.

  • sricher

    This is not about education policy. But I have had the pleasure of working with Charles Murray at AEI, and I got to read a free copy of Real Education!

    But whether or not they should be going to college is a different question, is it not?

    The fact is that more Americans are going to college–how can we find do better with this demographic?

    But yes, I subscribe to the Charles Murray “Real Education” thesis.

  • liv&win

    Barker13: Thanks! And you need to expand the educational ‘crisis’ down to grade school and high school. Kids are not educated to think and to reason. I don’t think there is any way to explain why a slogan, “change you can believe in” which was never explained or expanded upon caught the interest of so many young people. No one asked, what change, where change, how change, why change! If change here then what there.

    The education system, not just in USA, but in all industrial countries, is designed to provide a common basis of communication skills necessary for industrial economic expansion, period.

    And college is no better. I agree with Barker13, most of the kids going to college are getting screwed (or their parents are). It is only now, that the cost of an education has skyrocketted and the economy is tanked that people are at least doing modest cost/benefit comparisons. Read an article recently about a kid whose life long ambition was to go to a prestigous university, her entire educational career was focused on that one goal. Then, her parents were unable to pay for that education and she was given the choice of paying half of that private education cost or getting full parental help at a state university. She chose the later because she couldn’t figure out the upside of being $100K in debt after graduation, especially in her desired field (ironically, education).

    I think the New GOP would be very well served by ‘educating’ their base and prospective base in logic, reasoning and analysis. Every ad hominem attack or other logical fallacy should be painted with a scarlett letter. When slogans are used to replace ideas, the slogan should be ridiculed, and we should demand that the issue be explored critically. When slipshod thinking and manipulative language is used, it should be called out and exposed.

    I am only afraid that our “education” system has failed so miserably for so long that this would be like teaching french to pigeons.

  • barker13

    Re: Sricher // Jul 22, 2009 at 2:00 pm –

    “This is not about education policy.”

    It is now! (*GRIN*)

    Seriously, Steve, trying to keep us on point is like trying to herd cats.

    “But I have had the pleasure of working with Charles Murray at AEI, and I got to read a free copy of Real Education!”

    Then you no doubt realize that I’m brilliant and know what I’m talking about while Sinz… isn’t… and doesn’t.

    (*HUGE FRIGG’N GRIN*) (*WINK*)

    Seriously, Steve… perhaps YOU need to reread the first paragraph of my initial post. (Or perhaps just the first five words…) I’m a big picture, guy, Steve… “start” means “start” and “truth” is a constant theme in how I approach any and all problems.

    “But whether or not they should be going to college is a different question, is it not?”

    Yes. But again… PAY ATTENTION… I’m talking about a new way of starting the conversation – starting the conversation by presenting oneself as TRUTHFUL and knowledgeable. That’s key to making a connection; you need to establish trust. You need to get students used to hearing the truth from Republicans and conservatives and use these bonds of trust to further a relationship – get a foot in the door so to speak.

    “The fact is that more Americans are going to college–how can we find do better with this demographic?”

    (*HEADACHE*) You’re just not “getting” my point, Steve. You’re so focused on your point that you’re missing mine.

    OK. Let’s try this from a different angle. Let’s try to talk TO each other rather than past each other.

    1) So… what ARE your suggestions for turning college students away from the Democrats, towards the GOP? Be specific.

    2) Forget #2 Answer #1! (*GRIN*)

    Re: Liv&win // Jul 22, 2009 at 2:09 pm –

    “Barker13: Thanks!”

    (*SMILE*) (*BOW*) You’re quite welcome!

    “I think the New GOP would be very well served by ‘educating’ their base and prospective base in logic, reasoning and analysis. Every ad hominem attack or other logical fallacy should be painted with a scarlett letter. When slogans are used to replace ideas, the slogan should be ridiculed, and we should demand that the issue be explored critically. When slipshod thinking and manipulative language is used, it should be called out and exposed.”

    Hear! Hear! Abso-frigg’n-lutely!

    BILL

  • sricher

    I didn’t think it would be appropriate to list a full range of suggestions considering I only shared a fraction of the data from only 2 surveys… I was presenting information.

    Hopefully that explains why I don’t answer question 1. But I most certainly hope to be able to answer it in the future.

    But I’m not 100% sure I agree with the question. I think it should be as much about changing the party and its rhetoric as it is the college student… I’m not out to decry college campuses–go read Ben Shapiro’s “Brainwashed” if that’s what you’re looking for.

  • sinz54

    barker13 sez: “You’re point to one of the PROBLEMS I addressed – that we’ve made a college degree an artificial requirement for an interview, for an interview for an entry level job that doesn’t in any technical sense actually require the “knowledge” of a (especially) liberal arts grad.”

    But that’s what the free market has settled on, right?

    And I tried to explain the reason to you: America’s young people are now competing with highly educated foreign young people for white-collar jobs in BOTH their countries and in our country. That’s bidding up the entry requirements and the quality of the resumes, just as you would expect from the law of supply and demand.

    While at the same time, the blue-collar manufacturing base, which used to offer employment to the less educated, is fast disappearing.

    We can’t have it both ways. We can’t claim that America is being outcompeted by other nations like Japan with a highly educated workforce, and then claim that we don’t need high education for many white-collar jobs.

    And if the GOP tries to tell students at Harvard and Yale and Columbia that their college degrees aren’t really needed, they’re going to laugh at the Republicans and then walk away.

  • DFL

    sinz 54, I never was aware that the Republican Party was “anti-sex.” How do you come up with that accusation? I am willing to bet that almost all adult Republicans engage in the activity.

  • sinz54

    dfl:
    Go read some of the nutty columns written by Kathryn Jean Lopez, current editor of the National Review.

    Ms. Lopez has dismissed birth control as insufficient for dealing with unwanted pregnancy because, as she put it, the real issue is discouraging premarital sex.

    In fact, she believes that birth control has been a disaster, because it removed the fear of unwanted pregnancy as a deterrent to premarital sex.

    http://tinyurl.com/be3txr

    http://tinyurl.com/y5abef

    What she ignores, of course, is that removing the fear of unwanted pregnancy led directly to women’s liberation only a few years later, and women being able to have careers as good as men and that paid as much as men got. And it made it possible for women to enjoy sex for its own sake as much as men.

    And if the GOP tells college women that all that is wrong, and that chastity is good and birth control is disastrous, they’re going to laugh–and then walk away.

  • barker13

    Sricher // Jul 22, 2009 at 4:46 pm –

    “I didn’t think it would be appropriate to list a full range of suggestions considering I only shared a fraction of the data from only 2 surveys…”

    Huh…??? Why should the former preclude the latter?

    “I was presenting information.”

    You know the old saying about being able to walk and chew gum at the same time…???

    (*GRIN*)

    Seriously… you wanna present info… other’s work…??? Just provide a brief descriptive and the link. It’ll save you typing… it’ll save me reading. (*SHRUG*)

    “Hopefully that explains why I don’t answer question 1. But I most certainly hope to be able to answer it in the future.”

    Well… (*GRIN*)… it doesn’t really “explain,” but you’re answering questions and that’s a great start! As for the future… (*WINK*)… I’m looking forward to your sharing your thoughts and proposals.

    “But I’m not 100% sure I agree with the question.”

    That’s ok… you’re young; keep reading my posts and hopefully you’ll learn to agree! (*CHUCKLE*)

    “I’m not out to decry college campuses–go read Ben Shapiro’s “Brainwashed” if that’s what you’re looking for.”

    Nah. I’ll stick with Murray. And as to “decrying college campusus,” didn’t YOU volunteer that you worked with (with…???) (*GRIN*) Murray… read “Real Education”… and – in your own words – “subscribe to the Charles Murray “Real Education” thesis?”

    (*SCRATCHING MY HEAD*)

    (*CHUCKLING*)

    BILL

  • barker13

    Re: Sinz54 // Jul 23, 2009 at 10:18 am –

    Sinz. You wear me out. (*SIGH*)

    Sinz. Just read “Real Education.”

    (*SHAKING MY HEAD IN DESPAIR*)

    “America is being outcompeted…”

    “OUTCOMPETED…?!?!” Umm… I think you meant… er… beaten. (Perhaps “outclassed…”) (“Out-performed”…???)

    (*CHUCKLE*)

    (*ROLLING MY EYES*)

    BILL

  • DFL

    sinz54, to discourage teen sex or to even discourage premarital sex is hardly being “anti-sex.” And it is a conservative virtue to believe that America’s high illegitimacy rate is a big national problem. Illegitimate children tend to commit more crime and live more dysfunctional lives then children born to a married couple. Illegitimate children tend to strain the societies in which they inhabit.

    The birth control pill is one of the most revoltuionary inventions of the past century and has caused much harm. But I do agree that the government can not put the genie back in the bottle. Republicans and conservatives may as well catch the wind than outlaw the pill.

    Discouraging illegitimacy or teen sex does not make one “anti-sex.” As a father of six, I have even figured out that children do not come from lassoing storks. Don’t count me as anti-sex.

  • sricher

    Barker:

    Well, I’m glad you’re at least looking forward to the future survey returns. Thanks for your comments.

  • barker13

    Re: Sricher // Jul 24, 2009 at 9:32 am –

    Call me “Bill,” Steve. (Or “Stephen.” Any preference?”)

    BILL

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