Liberalism increasing among college freshmen

First-year college students are increasingly taking liberal stances on issues like same-sex marriage, according to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program’s annual Freshman Survey.

According to the report released in January, there was a noticeable increase in support for same-sex marriage with 71.3 percent of freshmen in support of it in 2011 versus 64.9 percent supporting it in 2009. Another issue that received more support this year was the legalization of marijuana, going from 45.6 percent in 2008 to 49.1 percent in 2011.

Linda DeAngelo, co-author of the report and assistant director of research at Cooperative Institutional Research Program, or CIRP, said the cause for increased liberal stances on these issues has to do more with their particular stances on an issue rather than their political backgrounds.

The study showed that students’ political identifications have not seen much change. In the past three years, about 28 percent of students described themselves as liberal, 21 percent conservative and about 46 percent see themselves as being in the “middle of the road.”

The study was administered by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles’ Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. It has been going on since 1966 to give colleges and universities across the country an overall view of the makeup of their freshmen classes, so they can accommodate the right resources, DeAngelo said. The survey also includes other questions on academic backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds as well as social and political views.

In defining what the liberal response is to particular issues, DeAngelo said researchers went by “how they’re defined in the larger political space of liberal or conservative in support.”

“We’re not necessarily defining an issue one way,” DeAngelo said. “It’s the way that it’s been defined in the broader society.”

Joseph Hinchliffe, director of undergraduate studies and professor of political science, has taught Political Science 101 for more than seven years. The course is usually highly populated by freshmen. Hinchliffe said in past years at the University, students have seemed to be leaning to the left on most issues.

He said the University’s liberal sentiment was evident in the overwhelming support of President Barack Obama running for the U.S. Senate seat and president.

“I haven’t seen anything of comparable sort of weight pushing back the other way,” Hinchliffe said.

He added that there is overwhelming support for liberal candidates on the campus. Over the past couple of years, Shana Harrison, president of the Illini Democrats and junior in LAS, said there is a large amount of people who consider themselves socially liberal and support same-sex marriage.

“Those types of social issues are really relevant to our generation,” Harrison said.