Student political leanings not dependent on Catholic identity

Michael Levin

Although many studies have concluded that college students tend to lean to the left when it comes to political ideologies, recent statistics indicate that Villanova students represent a marked deviation from this trend. Every three or four years, the University takes part in a national survey, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, that examines students’ political preferences. 

The survey targets freshmen and seniors, showing the range of political sentiments on both ends of the age spectrum. According to data gathered last summer from the class of 2013, 27 percent of incoming students consider themselves liberal, including 1 percent who see themselves as far left. In contrast, 32 percent of surveyed freshmen affiliate themselves with conservatism, including 2 percent who consider themselves far right. Making up the rest of the surveyed freshmen were the 41 percent who subscribe more to the “middle of the road” mentality.

According to Lara Brown, a professor in the department of political science, this diversity is evident in the classroom.

“My experience in interacting with students at Villanova is that we have a student population that is more balanced and looks more like the overall adult population, rather than one that is skewed toward one view or another,” Brown said. “In other words, when I conduct an anonymous survey on politics at the beginning of the semester to learn about the composition of my class, I have found that in a class of about 30 students, I typically have about 40 percent who consider themselves Democrats, 30 percent who consider themselves Republicans and 30 percent who consider themselves Independents. I also have more who say that they are moderate in their ideological beliefs –– about 40 percent –– than they say they are either conservative –– about 30 percent –– or liberal –– about 30 percent.”

President of College Democrats  Charles Myers feels that Catholic education offered at the University does not necessarily explain students’ political affiliations.

“Catholicism is its own political ideology,” Myers said. “Are there ‘liberals’ who are Catholics and ‘conservatives’ who are Catholics?  Sure. But I would not want to say that either ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ Catholics are more likely to seek out a religious education. At Villanova, I have encountered in nearly equal number both ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ Catholics who came to Villanova because of its Catholic affiliation.”

However, the strong ethical commitments in which this school is grounded do attract some students, according to Brown, although this does not mean these commitments attract more conservatives than liberals.

 “I believe that because Villanova’s students care about virtue, service and community, they are more interested in the institutions and organizations that promote these ideals,” said Brown.

Data from the senior class surveyed in 2008 offers a different perspective, as 33 percent identified themselves as liberal, compared with 27 percent who considered themselves conservative upon graduating.

“I do think that the liberal arts mission of the school, which is grounded in the Catholicism articulated by St. Augustine, attracts students whose ethical commitments are strong, irrespective of their ideological leanings,” Brown said.