Polls Show Students Rejecting Conservatism—Except For National Question

[See also by Kevin Carter: Brainwashing Backfires In Academe]

Anyone who has paid any attention to the MSM`s election coverage in recent weeks is familiar with the spin:  Republicans (and Hillary Clinton supporters for that matter) are old, boring, overwhelmingly white, and destined to be swept off the stage of history by a rising tide of multicultural-minded young people, led by their hero and savior Barack Obama.

The same spin appears in immigration coverage: young people are accepting and welcoming of immigration, those opposed are old and out of touch.

Is this, well, true? Are young people as uniformly left wing as the massive crowds of mesmerized college students chanting “Obama, Obama” that we see on TV would suggest?

At least some survey data indicates that they are not.

Every year, the Harvard University Institute of Politics surveys 18 to 24 year-olds on their political opinions, with a particular eye towards those enrolled in four-year universities.

At first glance the data does looks pretty grim. The surveys usually label today`s young people the “global generation” and highlight their widespread support for “globalization,” U.S. intervention in Darfur, tolerant attitudes on moral issues, etc. etc.

According to the Fall 2007 survey, 34 percent of students describe themselves as “liberal,” but only 19 percent as “conservative.” Among the general public, the numbers are exactly opposite.

But a closer look reveals some interesting details. In the Spring 2007 survey, some 71 percent of college students said that they supported passing a law to make English the official language. Most polls show that support among the general public for such a law is a little below 80 percent. Not much of a difference.

And when it comes to affirmative action, students are apparently far more conservative than their elders. Most surveys show that around half of the public supports affirmative action. But according to Harvard`s Spring 2007 survey, a whopping 64 percent of college students said that they opposed giving special preferences to minorities in hiring and education. Only 15 percent approved of it. (Question 31: Qualified minorities should be given special preferences in hiring and education.)

When you consider that roughly 30 percent of college students are minorities themselves and that Ward Connerly types are fairly rare, it`s safe to assume that opposition to affirmative action among white students is even more overwhelming.

As a student myself, none of this surprises me much. Unlike earlier generations of white liberals, who didn`t have to worry about affirmative action when they applied to college, my generation got to experience it first hand.

Nearly every white student I talk to, liberal or conservative, has stories of laughably under-qualified minorities they knew who got admitted to Ivy League schools. Except for a few die hard leftists, none of them are happy about it.

The situation is a bit more complicated when it comes to immigration. According to the Spring 2007 survey, 35 percent of college students polled said that they disagreed with the statement: “recent immigration to this country has done more good than harm.” By comparison, 28 percent agreed that it had.

When 18 to 24 year-olds not enrolled in college are thrown into the picture, the numbers become even more favorable, with 38 percent disagreeing and only 25 percent agreeing.

The rest said that they neither agreed nor disagreed. This fits well with my own personal observations. For a lot of young people, especially students, immigration just isn`t on their radar screen. We can reasonably expect, however, that as they grow up and start thinking about buying a house, having a family, and sending their children to school—things that immigration affects—they`ll start thinking about the issue more and more.

It`s also possible that, because opposition to immigration is so politically incorrect, some young people preferred to take the easy way out instead of answering honestly.

Compared to the general public, however, the numbers in the Harvard survey aren`t too bad. A recent Gallup poll found that when people were asked if they thought immigration was “a good or bad thing for this country today,” about 60 percent said “yes” and only 33 percent “no.”

(These Gallup numbers might look dismaying, but not to worry. When those polled were asked more specific questions about immigration, landslides said that it increased crime, hurt the economy, increased taxes and threatened social and moral values.” Apparently, the public only likes immigration in the abstract.)

Thus, surprising as it may seem, the Harvard and Gallup polls together suggest that young people actually have a less romantic view of immigration than their elders.

I think a variety of factors account for this. Young whites whose ancestors arrived during the First (1880-1920) Great Wave of immigration, for example, have far less connection to that experience than their parents, who probably heard stories about it growing up, or their grandparents, who might actually have taken part in it.

The Harvard survey also contains more good news. Amazingly, young people were twice as likely to say that they “strongly disagree” that recent immigration has done more good than harm than they were to say that they “strongly agree” that it has. The numbers were 15 to 8 percent among students and 19 to 9 percent among young people in general. 

Personally, I find this news especially heartening. If there`s one thing I`ve learned so far during my brief foray into politics, it`s that sometimes intensity matters more than numbers. To be sure, numbers matter, but quite often, when there`s a fight between a fanatically dedicated minority and a lukewarm majority, the smart money is on the fanatically dedicated minority.

The best way to measure how intensely someone feels about an issue, however, is to look at how they rank it in importance. The Harvard survey allows us to take a look at this as well. Unfortunately, our numbers here are smaller.

Unlike the Spring 2007 survey, [PDF] the more recent Fall 2007 survey [PDF] didn`t ask about immigration, except to include it in a list of 23 issues from which those polled were asked to pick the two that concerned them the most.

As one would expect, the Iraq War topped the list, with some 37 percent of young people ranking it as their greatest concern. Only 3 percent ranked immigration as their greatest concern, with another 5 percent ranking it second.

Thus, for some 8 percent of young people, immigration is a huge issue. That might not seem like much—but it beat abortion, gay marriage, terrorism, and a lot of the other issues that we typically associate with campus crusaders.

The Harvard survey doesn`t tell us which side the people in this hard-core group are on, leaving one wondering (or rather fearing): are they all budding Mechistas? Information from previous surveys, however, indicates that this is not the case.

According to the executive summary for the Fall 2006 survey, some 12 percent of young Hispanics rated immigration as a top concern; the summary added that they were three times more likely to do so than young whites.

I think we can safely assume that among this hard core group, the vast majority of Hispanics support open borders and the vast majority of whites emphatically do not. I have never met a white liberal, no matter how lefty, who cared more about increasing immigration than the Iraq War, global warming, or any of their other pet issues. 

Assuming that the numbers from the Fall 2006 survey haven`t changed much since then, we can roughly estimate that a little over half of this hard core group is for restricting immigration. Young Hispanics might be more likely to rank immigration as a top concern than young whites, but because their total numbers (at least for now) are so much smaller, hard core restrictionists still outnumber them. This would especially be the case on college campuses, since Hispanics are far less likely to go to college than whites.

Despite this numerical advantage, there is a clear organizational disadvantage on campuses. Since Hispanics have ethnic clubs and it isn`t politically incorrect for them to talk about immigration, they`re much better able to push their agenda.

The goal for patriotic immigration reformers then should be to set up our own groups—campus Minuteman chapters, for example—that can spread the word, invite speakers, etc.

A last thought on these immigration polls: Keep in mind that today`s young people have been subjected to more multicultural brainwashing than any other generation in history. Ever since we could crawl, our schools, movies, magazines, and TV shows have bombarded us with the message that tolerance is the sum of all virtues and that diversity is practically a gift from God on high.

Thus it`s absolutely astonishing that, despite years of intense propaganda, so many young people would give such sensible answers to such sensitive questions.

Finally, I advise economic conservatives to take a good hard look at the rest of the Harvard survey, because it does not bode well for their movement. Some 61 percent of young people endorsed universal health care (only 18 percent opposed it); 53 percent said that religious values should not play more of a role in government (23 percent thought that they should); and 68 percent said that protecting the environment was just as important as protecting jobs.

Young people also repudiated neoconservative foreign policy. Only 20 percent thought that the United States had a moral obligation to spread freedom and democracy to the rest of the world (47 disagreed). Only 14 percent thought it should do so even if it involved significant U.S. casualties (63 percent disagreed).

Only on issues pertaining to the “National Question”—immigration, affirmative action, official English—did young people lean noticeably to the right.

The message is clear: if the conservative movement wants to remain relevant in the future, it should talk less about values and terrorism and more about stopping immigration and affirmative action.

Whether or not it will is anyone`s guess. But those of us in the “National Question” crowd can at least press on knowing that our message isn`t quite as unpopular among “generation next” as our opponents would have us believe.

Kevin Carter [email him] is a student somewhere in Occupied America.