Peer Review

New Research on College Students' Political Views

In the charged political climate surrounding the upcoming presidential election, where do college students fit in? According to new research conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, American college students are politically engaged and have strong opinions about candidates and election issues, but are pessimistic, overall, about the state of the nation. These results come from the Panetta Institute’s April report, “2008 Survey of America’s College Students,” which includes data drawn from more than 1,000 telephone and online interviews with a nationally representative sample of four-year college students.

Finding

The State of the Nation

  • Nearly half of all college students—47 percent—believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Only 32 percent of students think the country is on the right track.
  • Student opinion about the state of the nation becomes significantly darker with each class year—43 percent of freshmen think the country is headed in the right direction, while only 32 percent, 31 percent, and 26 percent of sophomores, juniors, and seniors agree.
  • Almost two out of three (64 percent) of college students are “uncertain and concerned” about the future of the country, while 26 percent are more confident.
  • “Improving the health care system” is college students’ most pressing political concern, cited by 38 percent. “Dealing with the situation in Iraq” follows at 34 percent.

The Political Landscape

  • A full 82 percent of college students indicate that they are paying “a lot or some attention” to the 2008 presidential campaign and 29 percent are paying “a lot of attention.” In April 2004, 22 percent of college students said they were paying a lot of attention to that year’s campaign.
  • Sixteen percent of college students indicate that they are active in a political campaign, and 20 percent have plans to become active.
  • African American college students are the most likely to already be involved in a campaign (25 percent)

Primary and General Election Participation

  • About one-third (33 percent) of college students reported that they voted or plan to vote in a Democratic primary, and 13 percent voted or planned to vote in a Republican primary
  • Seventy-nine percent of college students report that they are registered to vote. Among registered students, 81 percent report that they will definitely vote (up from 73 percent in April 2004).
  • College students who indicated they are paying “a lot of attention” to the race are more likely to say they will definitely vote (88 percent) than students who are paying “some attention” (70 percent) and “not much or no attention” (39 percent)

The entire report may be downloaded in PDF format from the Panetta Institute website.

Levels of Interest in Various Careers
% Very/Fairly Interested
 
All College Students
%
Men
%
Women
%
Social
Sciences
%
Humanities
%
Science/
Math/CS
%
Business
%
Working for socially
responsible organization
52
54
51
50
54
55
56
Working for a not-for-profit community organization or foundation
40
30
47
48
55
37
25
Working for government
39
44
34
48
28
42
38
Teaching in a public school
31
24
36
35
48
27
12
Lawyer
22
23
21
36
21
15
24
Nursing
16
12
18
10
14
24
7
The military
10
12
7
9
7
12
10
Source: 2008 Survey of America’s College Student, Panetta Institute for Public Policy.

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