Devin likely vote for a candidate that

Devin Warnick

Review of Literature – Research Design

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            The political spectrum within the United States ranges from left (liberal) to right (conservative).  Along this spectrum, there are two parties that dominate each “wing”, the Democratic Party along the left, and Republican along the right. Even though these two parties’ ideologies aren’t always clear, certain distinctions are generally acknowledged.  For example, ideologies that are associated with the liberal perspective tend to put a greater emphasis on social freedom (immigration, marriage equality, universal healthcare, etc.) and greater government involvement.  On the other side of the spectrum, conservative ideology tends to put a greater emphasis on personal freedom and free market (lower taxes, fewer gun restrictions, fewer environmental restrictions on business, etc.) resulting in a smaller, less powerful government.1

            Existing research has shown that political ideology plays an important role when it comes to political identification and voting behavior.2 That being, those who identify themselves as a liberal will often vote for a candidate that is representing the Democratic Party, alternatively, those who identify as a conservative will likely vote for a candidate that is representing the Republican party.  Looking at data from New York Times exit polls since the 1976 Presidential election shows the important role political ideology plays in vote choice. According to the data, 76% of self identified liberals voted for the Democratic nominee. Additionally, looking at conservative voters, the same proportion voted for the Republican nominee.3 Additionally, looking at both Presidential and Congressional elections, it has been discovered that an individual’s loyalty to a certain party has risen since the 1970s.4 This essentially means that voters who have a certain partisan leaning are more likely now than ever to vote accordingly.

Higher education and party identification

            Colleges and universities have been shown to impact student in the ways that they prepare for civic duties and take part in our democratic society.5  Looking at Census data from 2010, we see that individuals with a college degree have higher voting rates than those who with only a high school degree. Looking at this statistic more closely, we see that 39% of those with less than a high school diploma, 55% with a high school diploma, 77% with a bachelor’s degree, and 83% with a graduate or professional degree voted in the 2008 election.6 Based off of these findings, if ideology is a determining factor for voting behavior, and individuals who possess higher levels of education are more likely to vote. Given these relationships, it is shown that understanding the influences of college on the political views of individuals is an important area of research.

            Past literature has shown that attending college has a liberalizing effect.7 After looking at self-reported ratings of liberalism and conservatism, it was shown that after attending a college or university in the U.S. there was an individual net increase of liberalism.8 Among the things that are associated with an increase in self-reported liberalism, are attending a selective, private institution, along with majoring in the social sciences. 9 Although, it was discovered a decade later that students entering into college is self-identifying liberals was about the same proportion to self-identifying conservative students. Along with this, it was found that there was not a general increase towards liberalism, but in fact a students reported increased partisanship towards their respective political identity.10

            More recently, in 2008, a study looked at the political identities of college students when they first matriculated, and then when they graduated. Based on the information collected, it was found that although there was a general increase towards liberalism over the four years, the proportion if graduated who identified as liberal at the end of the study was relatively proportional to the general population of that age group (18-24). Signifying, that although students became more liberal during college, they were not any more liberal than others their age who did not attend a college or university.11

            Most of the current literature that looks at the relationship between college/university and the liberalization of students tends to put an emphasis on sociopolitical issues (civil rights, gender equality, environmental issues, etc.).12 Although more left-leaning outlooks were adopted for certain issues, it was also found that college had a conservative effect on certain economic issues.13 These changes in students’ attitudes can be explained by the idea of “self-selection”, in which a student will choose a major or certain coursework that closer aligns with their political views at that time. These changes can also be explained by the idea of “socialization” in which the student adopts the views of a certain discipline.14 Previous literature has found evidence to support both of these concepts. In 2009, a study showed that students with more left leaning views on social/political issues at the start of college is more likely to choose a major in the social sciences.15 Additionally, evidence to support socialization was found in a 1996 study that reported students are likely to adopt the political opinions of their peers.16

            Even without much systematic evidence on this issue, literature put forth by both Astin and Dey suggest that the characteristics of a certain college or university might possibly play an important role is forming the political views of an individual student.  Most evidence seems to show that large institutions tend to only offer a small effect on the political attitudes of its students.17 This being said, it has also been shown that unlike their larger counterparts, liberal arts colleges are more likely to have a greater impact on their students given their small size, a emphasis on intellectual and personal development, and greater levels of interaction between students and faculty that creates a highly effective environment for shaping a student’s political beliefs.18

Additionally, liberal arts colleges tend to draw in faculty that are more liberal given that most liberal arts colleges tend to focus on academic areas such as the humanities and fine arts.19 Given these observations, it is also realistic to believe that these areas of study may also attract a more liberal student body, which would create more liberal peer environment on campus. This along with the generally small size of liberal arts colleges would increase the likelihood that a student would often have interactions students and faculty that are liberal. 20

Until recently, there has not been any extensive data collected to try and prove that attendance at a liberal arts college had an affect on the personal political views of its students. A study that was done to help address this was the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education (WNS). This study looked at 17 institutions and followed students over their four years in attendance. The main goal of tis study, for our purposes was to try and evaluate the influence of attendance at a liberal arts college and the development of liberal political views.





1 Jost et al., 2009

2 Jost, 2006; Jacoby, 1991

3 New York Times, 2008

4 Bartels, 2000

5 Terenzini, 1994

6 United States Census Bureau, 2010

7 Feldman and Newcomb, 1976; Astin, 1977; Pascarella and Terenzini 1991, 2005

8 Feldman and Newcomb, 1976

9 Astin, 1977

10 Astin, 1993

11 Mariani and Hewitt, 2008

12 Bryant, 2003; Weakliem 2002; Lottes and Kuriloff 1994

13 Weakliem, 2002

14 Hastie, 2007

15 Elchardus and Spruyt, 2009

16 Dey, 1996

17 Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991, 2005

18 Pascarella et al., 2004, 2005; Seifert et al., 2010

19 Rotham et al., 2005

20 Pascarella et al., 2005