Magazine article Insight on the News

Students Take Middle Road

Magazine article Insight on the News

Students Take Middle Road

Article excerpt

A survey of 240,000 students attending nearly 475 colleges and universities shows movement toward the center - and toward extremes.

Heading into a presidential-election year, America's college students are sticking politically to the "middle of the road," according to a national survey of college freshmen released in January At the same time, small but growing minorities are labeling themselves "far left" or "far right."

The 1.6 percent describing themselves as "far right" hit a peak for the 30-year-old survey, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles and the American Council on Education. The 2.7 percent describing themselves as "far left" was a 25-year high.

Among fall freshmen, 54.3 percent called their political views "middle of the road," up from 52.6 percent the previous year. "For the first time in the history of the survey, we have a situation where the large majority of young people are moving toward the center at the same time the small minorities at the extremes are growing," observes Alexander W. Astin, a professor at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

Historically black colleges harbor the highest percentages of students attracted to extremes, with 4.8 percent calling themselves "far left" (down from 4.9 percent last year) and 1.8 percent labeling themselves "far right" (up from 1.5 percent last year). "What's happening is that the youth are not confronted with some of the old delineations of Republicans vs. Democrats," says Alvin Williams, executive director of Black America's Political Action Committee. "They're looking at it from an economic point of view and coming down on line with Republicans. There's still a perception barrier, but they do not have the mental blockage that generations before them may have had coming out of the sixties and seventies."

Clarence Thomas' confirmation as a Supreme Court justice gave credence to the conservative label, according to Williams. "Also, the proliferation of conservative talk-show hosts [including Williams' brother, Armstrong] make it possible for black youth to think outside the political dotted lines."

Overall, fewer students say they agree with the statement "If two people like each other, it's all right for them to have sex even if they've known each other for a very short time" - 42. …

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