(U-WIRE) ST. LOUIS, Mo. ? In its annual survey of college freshmen, the Higher Education Research Institute announced the percentage of students concerned with political issues had reached an all-time low.
HERI?s survey indicated that only 28.1 percent of students entering college had an interest in ?keeping up to date with political affairs.? Researchers noted that the record low itself was not the only disconcerting aspect of the results.
?Although the 2000 results reflect a long-term decline in students? political interest, this year is significant since freshman interest in politics traditionally increases during a presidential election year,? explained Linda Sax, the University of California at Los Angeles professor of education who directed the survey.
?There is less sense of political crisis, less sense that there are big issues that will affect the nature of their lives in a major way,? said Robert Salisbury, retired professor of political science at Washington University.
?In the late ?60s, there was Vietnam. There have been the crises involving civil rights, the crises involving Social Security and Medicare,? he said. ?The political issues nowadays are very largely matters of adjusting at the margin of the tax rate, the coverage regarding health insurance and things of that kind.?
Salisbury also said he was not sure whether students had become less concerned. He pointed to increased local interest replacing concerns over national issues. Campus representatives gave a similar explanation.
?People are thinking more in terms of their personal lives and in terms of the communities that they?re involved with,? said Daniel McCarthy of the Conservative Leadership Association. ?They?re thinking more in terms of voluntary service projects. Instead of going out and working for a branch of the government or a lobbying group, what they?re thinking of doing is going out and working in a homeless shelter.?
Shift to the left
Though the survey indicated what appears to be decreased political interest, it also showed that many freshmen have adopted more left-wing views. Opposition to the death penalty increased substantially, with 31.2 percent of those surveyed answering that ?the death penalty should be abolished,? showing an increase from 26.7 percent in 1999 and 24.1 percent in 1998.
Freshmen also showed increased support of gay and lesbian rights. 27 percent agreed with the statement that ?it is important to have laws prohibiting homosexual relations,? half of the record high of 50.4 percent set in 1987. In addition, 56.0 percent believed that ?same-sex couples should have the right to legal marital status.?
?[College freshmen] are more independent, and that gives them a chance to think for themselves and start to rebel a little bit in a variety of ways, and that tends to make them a little more left wing,? McCarthy said.
He predicted that after college, many students would shift toward the right.
?The idea of making money really overrides any social concerns that someone has in terms of left-wing politics. You might still have left-wing ideals in terms of social policies, but in terms of economics, they are very focused on making money,? he said.
Despite the decline in national political interest, financial concern remained relatively unchanged at 73.4 percent.