About two months ago, I ran a survey asking students at my school, Dartmouth College, about several different political attitudes. Interesting findings about inter-partisan relations, acceptance of right-wing speakers on campus, approval of Donald Trump as president, and more can be found in this article writeup. I wanted to touch on some other results not included in that original piece, which fall into two areas about the ideological composition of Dartmouth students: racial and economic attitudes. I’ll address the former one here, and the latter one in a subsequent (Part 2) blog post. Part 3 will also look at another result (unrelated to ideology) in greater detail.
One of the more illuminating pieces of research shedding light on the 2016 election came from Schaffner et al. 2017 (their working paper here). The authors used a new survey question scale that captured racial attitudes, and found more racist sentiment on this scale–with several controls included in the model–strongly predicted vote choice for Donald Trump. This raised the importance and usefulness of this new scale, developed by Christopher D. DeSante and Candis W. Smith,who term it the “FIRE” battery (Fear, (acknowledgement of) Institutional Racism, and Empathy). The scale consists of four statements to which survey-takers respond by indicating how strongly they agree with the statements:
- I am fearful of people of other races.
- White people in the U.S. have certain advantages because of the color of their skin.
- Racial problems in the U.S. are rare, isolated situations.
- I am angry that racism exists.
Lesser agreement on #1 and #2 and greater agreement on #3 and #4 correspond to more racist sentiment.
I wanted to extend this scale to a college student population as a way to gauge racial attitudes among this population–and especially one at Dartmouth College which, through previous survey work, I’ve found to be very Democratic (usually 60-70 percent of students identify as Democrats) and very liberal across different issue dimensions. This was a way to further understand the ideological landscape of the campus. As a source of comparison, I also calculated responses to this racial attitudes scale from the 2016 CCES, among 1) the entire survey sample and among 2) respondents who said they were students in response to a question about their employment.
Below, I display the percentage among each of these three groups–Dartmouth students, all U.S. adults, and all U.S. students–who agreed (strongly or somewhat) with the four statements that make up the FIRE scale.
The smallest differences between the groups appear for the third measure, as the national sample of students is less likely to express fear of people of other races than the national sample of all adults is, but only by a few percentage points. The sample of Dartmouth students is not large enough to significantly distinguish its responses from those of the other two groups. Differences between Dartmouth students and all students are also not statistically significant for the 1st and 4th questions in this racial attitudes battery, as the two groups rate about the same in terms of their racist sentiment on these dimensions. The one significant difference arises in responses to the statement of whether white people have advantages because of the color of their skin. 85.2 percent of Dartmouth students agreed with this statement, while only 67.9 percent of all U.S. students did, indicating less racist sentiment among Dartmouth students. For the most part, though, the closest comparison to Dartmouth students here–Americans from a national sample who say they’re students–reveals little difference in racist sentiment.
When comparing Dartmouth students to all Americans, the divide in racist sentiment becomes clearer (and not unexpected, as Dartmouth students trend much more liberal–and likely racially liberal as well–than all Americans). About 90 percent of Dartmouth students agree with the statement that they’re angry because racism exists, while only about 80 percent of all adults do. The biggest difference appears for the question about whether whites have certain advantages because of the color of their skin–85 percent of Dartmouth students agree with this compared to only 51 percent of all Americans who do. Lastly, Dartmouth students are less likely to think that racial problems are rare, isolated situations than all Americans are.
These newer racial attitude metrics thus indicate very racially liberal views and low levels of racist sentiment among Dartmouth students. That’s clear from a comparison to a national sample using the same questions. Furthermore, the only significant differences between Dartmouth students and a national student sample points to the former group holding less racist sentiment, but racist sentiment differences between these two groups are minimal.
The other race-related question I asked Dartmouth students about was whether increasing racial diversity in the U.S. made it a better place to live, worse place to live, or made no difference. Given the amount of attention towards and discourse about racial diversity throughout this college campus and other ones, this seemed like an important opinion to try to capture. Overall, Dartmouth students largely took the more racially inclusive (i.e. more racially liberal) position on this question: 75 percent said increasing racial diversity made the U.S. a better place to live, while 18 percent said it made no difference. (I consider “no difference” as generally the more centrist and conservative position to take here, while “worse place to live” a further right-wing stance.)
However, differences by student partisanship did materialize, as shown in the below graph of responses to the question broken up by partisan group:
While unsurprising, it’s worth noting the fairly stark partisan differences. Democrat students were significantly more likely to say increasing racial diversity made the U.S. a better place to live (89 percent of them did) than Independent students (67 percent) and much more than Republican students (41 percent). Instead, Republican students were especially more likely to say increasing diversity made no difference (46 percent compared to Democrats at seven percent). While this option does not equate to distaste for racial diversity and more racially resentful beliefs, this does suggest a less optimistic view of the changing racial composition of the U.S. and less acceptance of non-white population growth. Coupled with the fact that Republicans were also about seven points more likely than Democrats to say racial diversity made the U.S. a worse place to live, it’s clear that even for this population, partisanship dictates views on race and diversity.