Survey: Today's freshmen most liberal since the Vietnam War

Kyle Perisic
Leadership Institute Intern

  • A survey of more than 135,000 first-time college freshmen in 2016 found that more students are identifying as liberal than at any time since 1971.
  • About 35.5% of students identified as liberal, compared to just 22.2% who identify as conservatives, while 42.3% reporting middle-of-the-road political views.
  • College freshmen are more liberal than at any other time since the Vietnam War, according University of California-Los Angeles’ Higher Education Research Institute (HERI).

    The survey also found that political polarization is at an all-time high since HERI began recording the data, with the largest gap seen in over 50 years of polling.

    "Gen Z is liberal-moderate with social issues...and moderate-conservative with fiscal and security issues."   

    The survey included over 135,000 first-time, full-time responses from students entering college in 2016. These freshmen are some of the first of their generation to enter college and vote in a presidential election.

    Of the notable statistics:

    42.3 percent of respondents say they are politically middle-of-the-road, which is the lowest percentage since HERI began its survey in 1966.

    35.5 percent of respondents said they are liberal or far-left versus 22.2 percent saying they are conservative or far-right.

    41.1 percent of women say they are liberal or far-left versus 28.9 percent of men.

    82.4 percent of women and 77.6 percent of men said that global climate change should be a priority for the federal government.

    75.4 percent women versus 58.8 percent men favor stricter gun control laws.

    47.7 percent of military freshmen are conservative or far-right.

    A large majority of left-of-center students, 86.6 percent, said they have “strong” or “somewhat strong” tolerance for people with different beliefs, compared 82.0 percent of centrist students and 68.1 percent of right-of-center students.

    [RELATED: Gen Z nothing like millennials, prof warns liberals]

    Campus Reform’s previously reported that Keystone College Professor Jeff Brauer foresees Generation Z as more conservative than Millennials.

    “Politically, Generation Z is liberal-moderate with social issues, like support for marriage equality and civil rights, and moderate-conservative with fiscal and security issues,” Brauer said. “While many are not connected to the two major parties and lean independent, Gen Z’s inclinations generally fit moderate Republicans.”

    HERI sampled over 130,000 college freshmen while Brauer sampled 1,200 college-aged members of Generation Z and utilized CNN exit polls and census data.

    Knowing only the War on Terror, the latest generation of freshmen parallel those that protested the Vietnam War, 43 percent of whom identified as liberal in 1971. It wasn’t until President Reagan when left-wing freshmen students were at the lowest recorded percentage of 20 percent in 1981, according to HERI.

    “Generation Z voters were likely attracted to Trump because of his strong stances on national security and economic recovery—the main concerns of that generation,” he said.

    Brauer clarified that his work is not finished, saying he hopes to continue collecting data over the course of the next few election cycles.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @KylePerisic





    Kyle Perisic

    Kyle Perisic

    Leadership Institute Intern
    Kyle Perisic is a Leadership Institute Intern, and reports liberal bias and abuse on college campuses for Campus Reform. He is originally from Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a double major in English and Political Science. While in college, Kyle was a member of various student organizations, worked in government relations, and worked on several political campaigns.
    More By Kyle Perisic

    Latest 20 Articles