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Higher Ed Dive said 47% of adults believe college makes people more politically liberal, compared to only 6% who said it makes people more conservative, according to a 2022 YouGov poll. Photo credit: GettyImages.

College doesn’t make students more likely to lean liberal or conservative

Research shows college politically engages students, but orientation differs by gender.

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Although many believe going to college makes people more likely to be liberal, this isn’t entirely true. Pursuing higher education indeed makes people less likely to be moderate, but gender plays a role whether they become more liberal or conservative.     

According to a research published by PLOS One, “several decades of cohorts attending college politicized men and women to a similar degree, but this does not imply that college politicized men and women in the same way.” 

The research found that women who attend college tended to be more liberal than men who also do so. However, this effect has changed overtime. Women were more liberal in the past than they are today.

Researchers found that there was a strong liberal effect on women among the early cohorts — peaking with the 1933 cohort at a level about twice as high as that for men. A reason for this can be that college exposed women to more liberal social ideas that they wouldn’t have learned about otherwise, the research stated. 

This effect declined in the 1944 cohort, settling on a smaller but stable level for the 1960s and later cohorts.  

While rates of liberals increased for both genders throughout the decades and men may become more politically aware in college, higher education doesn’t make them more likely to lean liberal or conservative. 

The research noticed a mild liberalization effect for earlier cohorts of men; any observable differences for cohorts after 1944 seem to be due to tendencies of self-selection. Meaning that, for men from that time, college might have functioned as an amplifier of political identification, leading them to take sides on either side of the political spectrum, according to the publication. 

It’s still unclear whether people who attend college become more politically engaged because of the attendance itself or because they differ from those who do not in ways (directly or indirectly) related to their later political identification, the research stated.

On top of that, according to Higher Ed Dive, it could appear that modern-day college graduates are disproportionately liberal because left-leaning students are more likely to enroll in the first place, said Stephen Vaisey, professor of sociology at Duke University and a coauthor of the research. 

To learn more about it, click here.  

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