The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday May 21st

‘Middle-of-the-road’ students up from 2008

Amid an increasingly polarized political climate, college students are more hesitant to pledge firm allegiance to a political party.

Students have strong liberal preferences on social issues — but the number of students who identify as moderate is higher than the last election cycle four years ago, according to a study by the University of California at Los Angeles.

“Students are not as liberal as often assumed by media commentary,” said James Stimson, a political science professor at UNC.

Approximately 47 percent of college students identified themselves as politically moderate, according to the survey by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute.

In 2008, only 43 percent of college students identified themselves at the center of the political spectrum.

The sample pool for the survey was 192,912 full-time first-year students from 283 colleges all across the United States, polled between 2008 and 2012.

Though many of these students identify as politically moderate, their preferences on social issues indicate otherwise, according to the study.

Kevin Eagan, assistant director for research at the institute, analyzed the survey data. He said he was not surprised by the results.

Eagan said participants in the survey were prompted with the question, “How would you describe your political orientation, ranging from far left to far right?”

The majority of students responded by saying that their political orientation aligned in the center.

But when students were asked about their support for specific social issues, such as the legality of abortion, same-sex marriage or universal health care, students were overwhelmingly in favor of these issues, Eagan said.

“I think what was interesting was when we have asked about political orientation, students answered toward the center, but when asked about specific social issues, students answered more liberally,” Eagan said.

“Students may try to be avoiding labeling themselves with one side of the political spectrum,” he said.

Mauricio Barreto, a sophomore political science and biology double major, said students identifying as moderates could demonstrate to others that they are open to having a dialogue about issues before forming an opinion.

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