UCLA has been tracking the attitudes of college freshmen on many topics for 43 years. Here's some data, courtesy of the always interesting Inside Higher Education, from the latest tally:
The proportion of students who describe themselves as "middle-of-the-road" politically continues to decline, hitting an all-time low of 43.3 percent, while the proportion who describe themselves as liberal and far left grew to 31 and 3.2 percent, respectively. "This is the largest percentage of students categorizing themselves as liberal since 1973," states the survey. The survey finds that 20.7 percent of freshmen characterize themselves as conservative, down slightly from 23.1 percent the year before.
The report finds increasing support among freshmen for liberal causes—including same-sex marriage. Support for environmental causes continues to grow.
Freshmen are also, apparently, partying less in high school. In 2008, 18.8 percent say they partied an average of six or more hours a week, half the 36.8 percent total in 1987.
The percentages of freshmen who drank beer (38 percent) and wine or liquor (43.9 percent) occasionally or frequently as high school students are also the lowest they've been in 43 years of collecting data.
Well, thanks George W. Bush, for turning a generation more to the left and making them sober up. Yet another legacy to be proud of!
Eighty-six percent reported that they "frequently or occasionally" discuss politics, an indicator of engagement that will doubtless garner praise from most quarters. That might be the one that fills me with sadness the most. Politics are of course crucially important, especially in an overweening state such as ours (and one that keeps getting bigger and bigger across every dimension). But politics is ultimately a grim zero-sum theater of operations. And life is so much richer in other areas of human activity.
It's hard to know without seeing the full survey (which costs a good deal of moolah to access) precisely what those students describing themselves as liberal are thinking in terms of government action. To be pro-gay marriage, for instance, could be a sign of an incipient libertarian streak in students, rather than a traditional big government liberal.