In advance of the contentious 2020 elections, The Oracle sent out a series of polls to gauge the Blair community’s political views, engagement levels, and news consumption habits. How politically involved are members of the Blair community? How aligned are we in our views? How comfortable are we talking about politics, especially when we aren’t sure if others agree with us? What issues do we care about most? We delved into all of those questions and more. Oh, and in case you thought we forgot, we didn’t: read on to see who’s the favorite in the presidential race atop our fair hill.
The initial poll the Oracle team sent to the Blair community received 113 anonymous answers from 80 students (about 20 students per grade) and 31 faculty members. The ratio of female to male respondents was about 4:3. We followed up the first batch of data with a second poll with follow-up questions, to which 62 students and 23 faculty members responded. The male to female respondents’ ratio was more balanced in the second poll (52% female to 48% male).
Do politics matter?
One freshman wrote that “we are the future, so everything that is going on matters, and we need to do as much as we can to learn and understand both sides.” If the polls showed us anything, it’s that, as in the “real world,” there are definitely more than just two sides on any given issue. It also showed us that most respondents agree that politics matter.
55% self-identified as interested in politics but still learning. One faculty member over the age of 61 who doesn’t align with a specific political party noted that he’s “still figuring…out…the goals and methods of political action,” which “are changing rapidly.” An additional 34.5% said they are very politically engaged. 83.2% of poll-takers keep up with general current events while 65.5% follow political news specifically. Only 10% are either totally confused by or don’t care about politics.
Although 63.3% of respondents cannot vote because they are either not old enough or are not citizens, most people who are eligible to vote have registered. Only 1.8% of eligible respondents have not done so. 4.4% said there was no point in voting when asked for whom they would vote.
People reported feeling most at ease when talking about politics with their parents/families (37% marked a 5 or 6 out of 6) and their friends (70.8% marked 5 or 6 out of 6)
People felt less comfortable– although not necessarily uncomfortable– talking about politics with their peers or in class, with the most common comfort level being a 4 out of 6 for both.
Although comfort levels around talking about politics were highest with family members, only 9.7% respondents reported that they are very aligned (6 out of 6) with their family’s political views. Experiences with talking about politics with family members run the gamut from being in an “echo chamber” to being seen as “suspect #1,” sometimes even within a single family, as is the case for one faculty member. That registered Democrat opined that it can be “hard to have productive conversations about politics” and to learn in either situation.
Comfort levels with discussing politics in a class environment covered the widest range of comfort levels and is the situation in which people had the highest levels of discomfort. The average faculty member and average student answered very similarly. TL; DR: both feel pretty uncomfortable, with an average of 3.4 out of 6 for faculty and 3.5 out of 6 for students. An almost equal number of respondents feel pretty comfortable (5 out of 6) as feel really uncomfortable (2 out of 6).
Some students fear judgment, especially if they don’t believe their views align with the majority of their peers. Some teachers were also wary of political discussions in the classroom, noting that they want to “preserve unity in the classroom” and do not want to create conflict, alienate any students, or influence them with their own beliefs. A Republican faculty member aged between 26 and 30 said that he sees “politics in this day and age” as “very black and white emotionally,” and he notes that he is still “learning how to express [his] own interests” and balance the “emotional responses” of others. Another faculty member wrote about making room for “student insight and conversation.”
When asked which political party they most align with, 53.1% picked the Democratic Party, about 16% picked the Republican party, and 15% identified as Independent. The remaining 16% fell outside of those three primary identifiers and reported that they align with third parties ranging from the Green Party to the Libertarian Party. If the respondents to the poll are reflective of the wider Blair community, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is about 3.5:1. Among respondents, those who identified as Republicans were almost a 1:1:1 ratio with those who identified as Independent or third parties/ other identifiers.
Some respondents noted that they perceive their views as strongly contrasting with others’ views on campus. Views on whether that was a positive or negative thing varied. One freshman boy described his views as “unpopular” while another student, a senior boy, noted that he’s “always super interested in hearing others’ perspectives; they add to my own and help me better understand what I do and don’t stand for.”
Respondents did not seem to have a good grasp of where others stand politically on campus, which may reflect a lack of comfort with sharing political views with other community members. Just over 40% of respondents replied “maybe” when asked if “a lot of people on campus share the same political views as you.”
Assuming that political party alignment is a strong indicator, a larger number of people perceive a potential misalignment with their political views with a majority of others on campus than is likely. Only 39.8% thought that others on campus share the same views as them, despite the fact that 53.1% of respondents reported that they most closely align with the Democratic Party.
If respondents are reflective of the wider community, 58% of respondents were correct that around 50% of the community identifies themselves as Democrats. An additional 29% significantly overestimated the proportion as standing around 75%.
When asked what percentage of respondents identified themselves as Republicans, only 20% of respondents were right that it’s around 15%, with the majority guessing that the number was significantly higher than it is if the poll accurately reflects the wider community.
Who are we voting for?
Biden/Harris would win in a landslide if respondents to this poll were the voters in the 2020 election, with Biden/Harris voters representing a larger portion of respondents than Democrats by 13.8 percentage points: 54.1% of respondents self-identified as Democrats, while 67.9% would or are casting their vote for the Democratic candidates, Biden/Harris. 13.8% said they are or would vote for Trump-Pence, which is notably lower than the 15.6% of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans.
The misconception that there are “two sides to every story” is one of many factors worsening political polarization today. The fact is, it’s a lot more complicated than that. The good news is that a multitude of different approaches and priorities should mean that people should be able to find at least some common ground if they are open to learning more about each other.
What issues drive the political choices of people at Blair? In descending order, poll respondents identified systemic racism (56%), climate change (47.7%), and the coronavirus (40.4%) as the issues they are most passionate about this election season, followed by a tied 38.5% for the economy, healthcare, and abortion.
The following section’s information is drawn primarily from the follow-up poll sent in response to the most important issues identified by the respondents to the first poll. See above for any demographic details you may be wondering about.
The issue of systemic racism was by far the highest-ranking issue of concern for the 85 respondents to the second poll. Passionate feelings around this issue clearly demonstrate the divide in American viewpoints today. Some note being newly aware and passionate about racial discrimination, while others dismiss the issue as overblown.
This divide may come in part because many people are unclear what exactly systemic racism is. “At its core, it’s about systems, not people,” Dr. Higgin explains. “Society is made up of many, many systems: the government (all the many levels of it, from federal, to state, to local); schools; and healthcare, to name just a few. Those systems are shaped by social norms and history and the people in power. Our Founding Fathers built a nation that favored some groups by giving them more power than others and excluded others, including white men who didn’t own property, non-white people, and women. Inequalities get baked into systems over time and are hard to recognize, let alone correct. And they are basically impossible to correct if people don’t see or acknowledge them.”
An example of systemic racism being misunderstood came up in the comments on another issue: coronavirus. One senior believes the media overplays the seriousness of the virus, citing “stories on how it disproportionately impacts communities of color,” which she called “silly because…a virus…can’t discriminate.”
“While it’s true the virus doesn’t, systems can, and do,” Dr. Higgin explains. “Black and Latinx people are more likely to be exposed to the virus than their white counterparts: many rely on public transportation, have front-line jobs that require them to work outside of their homes, or live in multigenerational homes or small apartments. Higher mortality rates among these and other non-white groups, including Native Americans, are based on more exposure as well as less access to and poorer quality healthcare. That not only impacts the care an infected person gets once they’re sick, but it also leads to a higher incidence of other health risks, known as comorbidities, that make it more likely someone who gets sick will die.” (For more on this topic see “The Fullest Look Yet at the Racial Inequity of Coronavirus,” NYT (July 5, 2020) and “The United States’ Preexisting Condition,” Code Switch, NPR (Aug 26, 2020). Dr. Higgin is also always happy to have a chat!)
Asked whether the events of the past six months have changed how Americans think about issues of race, the vast majority of the 85 respondents believe it brought about some change, with a split over the amount: 49.5% believe the change has been minor, while 45.9% think it has been significant. Just under 5% believe that most Americans feel the same as they always have on the matter.
One junior noted, “Personally over the last six months I have become dramatically more aware of the racism ingrained so deeply in society and how serious it is.” She continued, “though I was aware of blatant racism and police brutality before[,] I feel more educated and willing to converse about the topic more than ever.” Another student in the same graduating year felt strongly to the contrary on the matter. She wrote, among other things, that “‘Recent events’ do not reflect on what people call ‘systemic racism.’”
When asked whether the US has made enough progress on racial equality, the overwhelming majority of respondents (84.7%) said the US has not made enough progress on racial equality, while 15.3% said that America has.
How hopeful do people at Blair feel about whether renewed attention to racial disparities in recent months will lead to improvement in the lives of Black people in America? Again, a vast majority of respondents believe some change will come: 57.6% of respondents believe those changes will be minor, while 29.4% are more hopeful, believing it will bring major changes. 12.9% believe there will be no changes at all.
The question of whether race is discussed enough at Blair yield results mirroring earlier questions about progress in the wider country. 44.7% of people who replied believe we do not discuss race enough at Blair, followed by 42.4% who say it comes up just the right amount. 12.9% think race is discussed too much.
The same student who dismissed the role of systemic racism in recent events responded that she believes race is “more of [an] issue when [people] bring it up all the time,” and that educators should stop trying “to control the narrative.” She continued that teachers “should only be involved with teaching, not politics in which they have no clue on.”
The next highest ranking issue was climate change, which was selected by 47.7% of respondents as of high concern. When asked whether they believe climate change is real, 96.5% of respondents replied yes, while 3.5% said no.
One faculty member took serious issue with the question itself. “Please stop asking, ‘is it real.’ The question has been settled by research for many years now,” he wrote. “Simply start by asking, ‘What should we do about it?’” A freshman commented that the issue “is incredibly important,” and that it makes her “angry that the Trump Administration ‘doesn’t believe’ in climate change.” Representing a much smaller proportion of respondents, a senior noted, “Back when my dad was growing up, there was supposed to be an ice age by now, then it was global warming, now climate change.” He continued sarcastically, “Can’t wait to see what’s next.”
A significant but smaller majority of respondents believe climate change is serious than believe it is real, and a slightly larger number believe it’s not serious than don’t believe in it at all. An even greater minority believe there isn’t a “point of no return” on climate change.
Asked when we will reach the point of no return on climate change, a 45.9% majority believe we have about a decade to make a difference. 25.9% believe it’s already too late, and 16.5% say we have about fifty years in which to figure out a solution.
A number of students expressed the sentiment of one female freshman: it’s “a serious issue that needs to be addressed sooner or later.” Striking a slightly optimistic tone, one female sophomore noted, “I don’t think it can be stopped, but a lot can be done to slow it.” A male from the same graduating class wrote, “I think our society is doing a good job of controlling it, and the age of battery-operated cars and lots of clean energy is arriving.”
40.4% of respondents selected the coronavirus pandemic as a top issue. As on other issues of concern, views differ across campus. Favorable responses to how President Trump is handling the matter in the second poll (15.3%) very closely mirror the percentage of respondents in the first poll who identified themselves as Republican (15.9%). 87.4% believe the president’s response has not been strong enough, with one respondent noting that he “failed the American people.”
The senior who noted that reports on the disproportionate impacts of the virus on people of color were “silly,” expressed her sympathy for people who are dying while calling the matter “tricky.” She believes “life should go back to normal” and that people with health issues “should stay home” for the benefit of others and the economy.
Clearly views on politics vary across campus, but where are people getting their news? How much time are they spending consuming it?
An over-65% majority reported spending less than 30 minutes but more than 10 minutes actively reading the news per day compared to 58.4% of respondents report checking the news regularly. It’s “important to be informed,” one faculty member who identifies herself as a Democrat between the ages of 51 and 60 noted. “I try to read the news from many perspectives, including international news sources.”
When asked to select all the sources they get most of their news from, 68.1% reported getting it from news sites, with the New York Times and CNN coming out on top, at 67.2% and 51.3%, respectively, followed by social media (62.8%).
Among those who use social media as a news source, 63.7% listed Instagram as their platform of choice, followed by Tik Tok at 31%. Many respondents also reported that their use of social media as a source of news has increased since the start of the pandemic and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests in the spring, with a 38.8% surge in using Instagram that way, and 31.1% using other social media platforms for news more frequently.
Views on social media as a source of news and platform for activism span from pro to con. Two male students, a freshman and a senior, respectively, dismiss those who rely on social media for news and facts as “ignorant” and “funny.” Others see the use of these platforms for news gathering differently. One senior girl uses Instagram as “a spark” for further research. A freshman girl echoed that the “fact check is important.” One male member of faculty, aged 51 to 60, notes that social media can be “great for activism, gathering and calling people to a cause.”
Our views and sources vary, but how much do we know? To get an idea of how informed members of the Blair community are on the basics of the US government, we queried poll-takers on what kind of government America has. Given multiple choice options, 61.1% of respondents gave the correct answer— a republic, which is a type of representative democracy.
Whether you already knew that or not, we’ll all be seeing the results of that representative democracy in action soon!
Copyright The Oracle Team 2020