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Views on Iowa Caucus Politics and the Issues
Kedron Bardwell, Ph.D …with Andres Calvopina, Mark Foster, Joanna Freeland, and Aubrie Menghini
For more information, contact: Kedron Bardwell Department of Political Science, Simpson College 701 North C St., Indianola, IA 50125 firstname.lastname@example.org www.simpson.edu/~bardwell/survey2012.htm
2 How was this survey conducted? The 2012 Simpson Survey analyzes student and faculty data gathered in a pre-election survey conducted in November 2011. The survey was written, distributed, and analyzed by Professor Kedron Bardwell and students in POSC 285: Political Research. The targeted populations of the study included 1,395 full-time undergraduates and 97 full-time teaching professors at Simpson College. We conducted the poll via Survey Monkey, with an introductory message (explaining the goal of the survey and asking recipients to look for a link the next day) followed by three waves of emails (one initial link, then two reminder links). Filling out the survey entered these respondents in a prize drawing. Prizes included a Kindle Fire tablet, hot air balloon rides, and a $50 Visa gift card. A total of 563 students and 65 professors answered the survey for response rates of 40 percent and 67 percent, respectively. Because the survey responses were gathered by way of a “census” rather than a random sample, any large systematic differences in response rates by subgroup are a potential source of error in the poll results. Comparing the sample to available information about the Simpson student population, we found an “oversample” of female students, but few other differences on key demographic or political characteristics. What do we know about Simpson’s politics? Before the first Simpson Survey in 2006, knowledge about the social and political attitudes of Simpson professors was anecdotal. The conventional wisdom, supported by national surveys, is that American professors are overwhelmingly liberal in ideology and Democratic in their voting. The 2008 Simpson Survey confirmed this profile fits Simpson professors well (Bardwell 2008). The 2008 report initiated discussion on campus about the ideological divide between professors and students, and it compared the political views of faculty here with the views of professors at U.S. liberal arts colleges (Lindholm et al 2005; Rothman et al 2005). We now have quite a bit of information about Simpson students’ political views. Besides the Simpson Survey, UCLA’s CIRP annual poll of college first-year students was administered at Simpson each year until a few years ago. We have a good idea how our first-year students compare politically and demographically to students nationally (Pryor et al 2005). We begin the report with a few results from the 2007-2008 CIRP, the last available year, comparing Simpson students to those at other U.S. colleges. The right column reports averages for first-year students at highly selective, 4-year religious colleges, our comparison group in the CIRP.
Profile of Simpson First-year Students 2007-2008 CIRP 4-yr. religious highly selective • • • • • • 92% white 43% say their father obtained a 4-year college degree 22% report discussing politics frequently in the past year 51% characterize their politics as “middle of the road” 69% say wealthy people should pay a larger share of taxes than now 38% say it is “very important to improve understanding of other cultures” 89% 64% 33% 39% 57% 57%
3 The profile is a brief snapshot of Simpson students. Although the percentages have inched up recently, Simpson’s first-year student population is still not very diverse. Many of our students are firstgeneration college students. Simpson students are, on average, near the center (conservative on a few issues, moderate on most, and liberal on others). For example, our students are more likely to say they are ideologically moderate than students nationally, and slightly more likely to support a redistribution of wealth via progressive taxes. Simpson students are not as likely as other college students to discuss politics regularly or to say learning about other cultures is vital. We now present findings from the 2012 Simpson Survey in detail. The first section highlights the characteristics of the respondents. The second section analyzes engagement, political knowledge, and participation. The third section tracks partisanship, ideology, and voting, including the Republican voters’ views on the candidates in the 2012 presidential caucuses. Part four describes recent trends in presidential job approval, as well as social and economic issues. Part five investigates views on religion, tolerance, and same-sex marriage.
1. Simpson Survey 2012: Respondents STUDENTS Gender Male Female Race/Ethnicity White Family Income > $75,000 $50,000-$74,999 $25,000-$49,999 < $25,000 Class Year Senior Junior Sophomore First Year Academic Division Education & Social Science Humanities Natural Sciences Policy Studies Visual & Performing Arts 32% 68 FACULTY 55% 45
27% 34 31 8
60% 35 5 0
32% 27 19 21
29% 12 28 24 9
22% 21 25 17 15
4 The table above summarizes characteristics of our respondent samples (including gender, race or ethnicity, income, class, and academic field). Because poll responses were gathered using a census, not a true random sample, major systematic differences between respondents and non-respondents could skew the results. Fortunately, the sample of 563 students and 65 professors very closely mirrors institutional data on the groups, with a single exception. First, and most notably, female students are overrepresented in the sample if compared to the proportion of female students at Simpson (just under 60%). Second, students and faculty of color are slightly underrepresented. Third, seniors are slightly overrepresented and first years and sophomores slightly underrepresented compared to Simpson’s population. The differences in diversity and class are small and should not affect interpretation of results. As for gender, findings on issues that are traditionally strongly correlated with gender (for example, questions of war and poverty) should be interpreted cautiously.
2. Political Knowledge and Participation Until the 2008 election, the United States had seen a steady decline in political participation since the 1960s (Putnam 2000). In light of the role of younger voters in this decline and the surge in turnout among all age groups in 2004 (Patterson 2005) and 2008 (Bardwell 2008), what is the current level of political interest, knowledge, and engagement in 2012? Not surprisingly, this survey shows a gap between students and professors in news consumption, political knowledge, and participation. There are also differences between Simpson and the nation at large. News Consumption The news media have a large influence on the information people receive about political topics. Simpson students have access to many free news sources online, as well as hard copies of newspapers like The Des Moines Register, New York Times and USA Today. News consumption is important because levels of news attention should affect how much students and professors know about political issues and candidates. When asked how often they follow American politics in online or traditional media, only 18% of students said daily – compared to 88% of professors. About 60 percent of students fell in the middle categories (35% said weekly, 25% said monthly) while 20 percent said they rarely or never follow political news. Overall, this shows that about half of Simpson students only occasionally learn about politics by way of news media. Political Knowledge As a result, it is not surprising that many students are not confident in their knowledge of U.S. politics. Do they know about candidates and campaigns? Have they read up on issues? In the survey we asked: “How informed do you think you are about current politics and political issues?” Only one quarter of students say they are very well informed or well informed. Fifty percent say they are fairly informed, and 24 percent admit they are not well informed. On the flip side, fully three-quarters of Simpson professors claim they are very well informed or well informed on current politics and issues. Aside from political knowledge, we asked respondents how often they talk about politics with friends and family. Results for students in this area are a bit better: about 40 percent of students (versus 91 percent of faculty) say they discuss politics at least once a week.
5 “Tea Party” & “Occupy” Movements Given the recent news coverage of the two movements, we asked about student and faculty views on the Tea Party (libertarian/conservative) and Occupy Wall Street (populist/progressive). The voting public nationally is ambivalent about the Tea Party: 25 percent are supporters, 28 percent are opponents, and 46 are neither or have no opinion (Saad 2011d). In line with lower levels of political knowledge, 59 percent of Simpson students have no opinion or don’t know about the Tea Party. Of students with knowledge about the Tea Party, opponents outnumber supporters 29 percent to 12 percent. Professors have solidly negative views on the Tea Party: 81 percent oppose it (63 percent strongly oppose) and only 14 percent support it. Did the Occupy Wall Street movement fare any better? Among students, no, but Occupy has strong support among faculty. The U.S. public still has limited knowledge of the Occupy movement. A recent Gallup poll shows about 60 percent of Americans do not know enough about the movement to state an opinion (Jones 2011). Similarly, almost half of Simpson students in our survey said they do not know enough about the movement to either support or oppose it. Among those with knowledge about it, 28 percent support it and 24 percent oppose it. Professors strongly side with Occupy Wall Street (67 percent); only 18 percent oppose it. Political Participation What is the actual level of political activity and civic engagement on campus? In 2008, young Americans became extremely involved in Barack Obama’s campaign, and a spike in youth turnout was helpful to his election victory. As the next presidential election approaches, it’s important to see how things have changed since 2008. When asked about involvement in the last two years, 34 percent of students have attended a political speech or rally (versus 57 percent of faculty). Interestingly, political event attendance dropped among faculty since 2008 – probably because most professors (due to their ideological leanings) lack interest in Republican events. Taking civic participation a step further, just 11 percent of students have volunteered for a campaign in the last two years (compared to 22 percent of faculty). Consistent with Simpson’s mission, students fare better in the area of service or volunteering. When asked if they have volunteered for a non-profit or a charity in the last two years, 65 percent of Simpson students say they have (versus 71 percent of faculty). Voter Turnout A final measure of engagement is the simple act of voting. Iowa is one of many states in the Midwest (like Wisconsin and Minnesota) with turnout rates higher than the U.S. average, including among youth. In 2008, an impressive number (65 percent) of Democratic-leaning students voted in a primary or caucus, versus 53 percent of Republican leaners. In 2008, we asked if students planned to vote in November; three-quarters of students said they were very likely to do so. Our data for 2012 again predict high turnout by students. Among Republican leaners, 40 percent are very likely and 43 percent are somewhat likely to vote in a 2012 caucus or a primary. Thinking of November 2012, most students (70 percent) say they are very likely to vote. Interestingly, the predicted caucus/primary turnout of Republican-leaning students is actually higher than that of Republican-leaning faculty members (only 33 percent of which are highly likely to vote, while 27 percent say they are somewhat likely). This may reflect Republican-leaning professors’ dissatisfaction with a conservative field of 2012 candidates, as half of these professors self-identify as
6 moderates. When it comes to the general election, however, a solid 95 percent of all professors say they are very likely to vote in November of 2012.
3. Partisanship, Ideology, and Voting The 2012 Simpson Survey finds big differences between students and professors in partisan affiliation. As depicted below, Simpson students are fairly close to the U.S. public in party affiliation. Among independents, a few more lean Democratic than Republican. But our 2012 sample overall is slightly more Republican than in 2008, in line with national party ID trends (Washington Post 2011).
Simpson professors have very different partisan tilt than the students. When we account for Independents who lean to the Democratic side, 75 percent of professors self-identify as Democrats or Democratic leaners. Twenty percent lean to the Republican side; five percent are what we call “true” independents (with no party leaning). Professors lean even a bit further to the left than the mean for U.S. college professors. A national poll of 1,643 professors found that half identify with Democrats, 11 percent with Republicans, and the rest are independents or leaners (Rothman et al 2005).
7 Ideology is closely related to party affiliation now that the parties have realigned by region and are more ideologically consistent (Paulson 2000). As shown below, 27 percent of Simpson students say they are conservative-leaning, a spike of about 8 points from 2008 (Bardwell 2008). The conservatives cut somewhat into both the moderate and liberal ranks, compared to 2008 data. As has been the case every year of our campus survey, however, moderates are still the largest group, and the conservatives still trail liberals in total numbers on campus.
Meanwhile, Simpson professors are to left of their students and the U.S. public. Two-thirds of our professors are liberal or very liberal, versus 50 percent of professors from other private four-year colleges (Lindholm et al 2005). Only 12 percent of professors self-identify as conservatives, and not a single professor claims to be “very conservative.” Simpson College’s historic affiliation with the United Methodist Church has nurtured a strong social justice tradition at the college, one possible explanation for the ideological orientation of the faculty. Whether these political leanings work their way into the classroom and teaching is a matter for another survey.
8 Because the Republican Party is now selecting a presidential nominee for 2012, the survey also asked about candidate preferences of Republican and Republican-leaning students and faculty. Among students who are very or somewhat likely to vote in a caucus/primary, Mitt Romney was the top choice (27 percent), followed by Ron Paul (19 percent) and his youth-oriented campaign. In the next tier, only Rick Perry and “none of the above” (including Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, and candidates yet to enter the race) hit the mid-teens in support. Businessman Herman Cain, before his campaign imploded over several sexual harassment claims, and Michele Bachmann, an Iowa native and Tea Party favorite, also snuck into double digits. Although the survey closed before a late-November Gingrich surge, students’ support for Newt was far below the national average.
In line with their moderate ideological profile, the few Republican-leaning professors on campus mostly fall in line behind Mitt Romney (55 percent), with scattered support for other candidates. Finally, we asked students and professors of every party affiliation (including “independents”) which party they plan to vote for in the November 2012 presidential election. What is most surprising about our findings is how ambivalent student preferences are right now. Among Simpson students who say they are very or somewhat likely to turn out in November, 27 percent plan to vote for the Democrat, 21 percent plan to vote Republican, and an astounding 50 percent are still undecided. In light of the strong support for a generic Democratic presidential candidate in our 2008 poll (80 percent of faculty, two-thirds of students), the fact that President Obama has solidified little of his support with younger voters is a bad sign for his re-election. The “softness” of Obama’s support is also illustrated by the survey’s results on presidential approval. Just over half of Simpson students approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president, a big drop compared to Obama’s nearly two-to-one support from voters 18 to 29 in 2008 (Pew Research Center 2008). On the faculty side, while few professors (aside from Republican ones) look to vote against Obama in November, a decent-sized group of fellow Democrats disapprove of his job performance, perhaps reflecting frustrations from the liberal base within his party.
9 4. Issues Most Important Problem The 2012 Simpson Survey asked a number of questions about controversial social and political issues of the day. A well-known survey question on issues is Gallup’s most important problem (or MIP) question. As in the Gallup poll, our MIP data was compiled using an open-ended question. The table below tracks differences between Simpson professors and students – and the right column compares Simpson’s results with a 2011 national sample (Gallup 2011a). Faculty 40% 6 2 5 18 2 3 12 5 8 Students 30% 23 10 6 7 4 6 4 2 8 2011 Gallup Poll 30% 6 36 3 13 4 3 1 3 2
The Economy Spending / Deficits / Debt Jobs Education Politics / Lack of Compromise Health Care American Society / Declining Values Income Inequality / Poverty War Other
Overall, two-thirds of Americans cite the economy or jobs as the most important problem or issue today. One interesting difference: Simpson faculty and students often spoke of the economy in general but not as often of “jobs.” Perhaps professors (all of whom are employed, and many with the protection of tenure) and Simpson students (only seniors are job-market ready) are a bit disconnected from the job stress felt by many Americans. As for our undergraduates, students are more likely to see deficits and spending as a big issue. In light of the fact their generation will be left to pay back the debt, this makes sense. One the faculty side, two issues stand out. Professors were more likely than students and U.S. voters to name the U.S. political system itself as the problem, and also are very worried about income inequality. Slightly less than 10 percent of faculty and students listed issues that did not fit into any of the categories. Here is a sampling of these “most important problems”:
“Climate change is something that is happening right now and will change life as we know it within our lifetimes.” “The lack of representation for the 99%.” “The lack of tolerance in this country. Against homosexuals, foreigners, or people who don't share our own personal views.” “Sin.”
10 • “They say you can judge a society based on how it treats its children and elderly; therefore, the most important problem facing this country today is abortion.” “Lack of face to face communication skills brought on by social media.” “Misinformation and apathy, especially in the younger generation of voters.”
Social and Economic Issues The next section of the poll asked respondents about their views on a range of controversial issues. The survey listed statements about the issues, and respondents answered using a Likert scale with five options (ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree). In this and later paragraphs, we highlight student-faculty differences and where Simpson diverges from U.S. opinion.
A slim majority of students favor the death penalty for the most serious crimes, but support drops in half for faculty. Death penalty support in Iowa is stronger, close to two-to-one (Roos 2006). Overall at Simpson, about 40 percent of people favor marijuana legalization, but there is a huge gap in views between professors (66 percent) and students (34 percent). The campus is divided on abortion, with support for more state abortion restrictions in the low 40 percent range and opposition to these limits in the upper 40s. As expected, professors lean strongly to the pro-choice side (74 percent oppose more state restrictions). Students’ support for abortion restrictions actually ticked up eight points since our 2008 poll. We find more of a consensus on global warming: 65 percent of the campus agrees this is a big international problem, including 60 percent of students.
11 The Economy In the 2008 survey, respondents sent a clear message that the nation’s economy was struggling (Bardwell 2008). Only five percent of professors and 10 percent of students said the U.S. economy was excellent or good; the rest rated economic conditions as fair or poor. In 2011, national polls show that the pessimism has increased in the last three years. Americans are very skeptical of the job market: 81 percent of them think it is a bad time to find a job (Saad 2011c). Likewise, our 2011 survey finds that 97 percent of students (and 100 percent of professors) rate the current U.S. economy as fair or poor. Although students may not feel the effects of a bad economy as directly as their parents do, particularly as it relates to employment, students’ views are consistent with the nation’s nearly universal economic pessimism. Trust in Government With the dismal state of the economy and the U.S. Congress’ approval rating at all-time low of ten percent, it is not surprising trust in government is down (Cillizza 2011). Many citizens do not trust the United States government to lead effectively. Our students were asked, “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington, D.C. to do what is right?” Two percent said just about always, 32 percent said most of the time, 61 percent said only some of the time, and five percent said never. Among faculty, trust was even lower. Two percent said just about always, 18 percent said most of the time, 78 percent said some of the time, and two percent said never. The level of trust of government at Simpson is similar to national data (Saad 2011a). Iraq War a Mistake? The Iraq war is still a controversial topic, and people disagree on whether the U.S. should have entered the war in the first place. When we asked about this issue in 2008, only 13 percent of faculty and 32 percent of students said they believed the Iraq war was the right decision (Bardwell 2008). In our current survey, 46 percent of students say it was the right decision, a sizable increase from three years ago. While a small share of this change is likely due to a slight move toward conservatism in the student population, this does not explain all of the increase. Professors’ views about Iraq have stayed more consistent; only 17 percent of them say the war was the right decision. Nationally, recent polls find 41 percent of Americans think going to war was the right decision (Pew Research Center 2010). Interestingly, U.S. public support for the war in Iraq in early 2003 – just after American troops landed – topped 70 percent (Polling Report 2011). On the issue of America’s role in the world and foreign policy, students are very pessimistic. A startling 70 percent of students believe the U.S. should focus more on problems “at home,” instead of getting highly involved in world affairs. Professors are more divided, with 43 percent saying we should focus on issues at home but 51 percent saying the U.S. should be highly involved in the world. Students are closer to the national data: a recent poll found 77 percent of Americans want U.S. leaders to focus on domestic policy, not foreign policy (Pew Research Center 2011). Health Care Reform In past surveys, we found strong support at Simpson for universal health care. While the U.S. electorate typically favors universal health care by approximately a two-to-one margin, in 2008 support
12 at Simpson was three-to-one (Bardwell 2008). This year we asked about opinions on the recent health care reform bill, which aims for near-universal coverage in America. Students are evenly divided on the reform with 35 percent support and 35 percent opposing it; quite a few (30 percent) don’t know about the reform bill or have no opinion, reinforcing our finding of low political knowledge by some students. Professors strongly support the health care reform bill (74 percent), with 19 percent opposed and eight percent in the “don’t know / no opinion” column. Illegal Immigration A topic of intense debate, nationally and even in Iowa, is the push to create an official “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants. Recent national polls show overall support (64 percent) for creating this pathway (Saad 2011b). In this year’s survey, we asked about both a “path to citizenship” and the notion of “birthright citizenship” – the U.S. Constitutional provision that children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants are automatically citizens. About 50 percent of Simpson students favor the idea of a path to citizenship, while about 40 percent oppose it. Faculty opinion on the path to citizenship is tremendously positive (89 percent support). Even students who take a strict line on immigration, however, are not necessarily in favor of changing the U.S. Constitution to address what has been derisively called the “anchor baby” problem. Only 24 percent of Simpson students want to repeal birthright citizenship. Interestingly, 20 percent of Simpson professors also agree it should be repealed. Debt and Taxes In light of recent media attention to the skyrocketing – now $15 trillion – national debt, we asked responded about how to fix the problem. Most Simpson students (51 percent) and faculty (68 percent) say the best solution to the federal debt is a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. More students than faculty think just cutting spending is the best way to address the debt (32 percent versus 12 percent); more faculty than students believe just increasing taxes is the best solution to the debt (19 percent versus five percent). Nationally, support for using a mix of tax increases and spending cuts to reduce the debt is about 60 percent (Washington Post 2011). Starting with Herman Cain’s “9-9-9 Plan,” tax reform has drawn a lot of coverage this election cycle. We find that students (70 percent) and faculty (80 percent) support the current progressive U.S. income tax system over a flat tax, where all individuals would pay the same percentage rates regardless of income. Support for the flat tax is quite a bit higher nationally than at Simpson, 40 percent nationally compared with not quite 20 percent on campus (Hart/McInturff 2011). Flat taxes tend to shift the tax burden to the middle and working classes; many Simpson students fit that profile, so maybe the weak student support for a flat tax reflects this economic reality.
5. Religious Beliefs and Behavior In light of Simpson’s historic ties to the United Methodist Church, we also asked respondents about their religious beliefs and behavior (“religiosity”). The table below highlights major findings on respondents’ belief in God, religious affiliation/denomination, religious service attendance, as well as the salience or importance of religion in their daily lives.
A Religious Profile of Simpson College Students Which statement about God comes closest to your belief? I believe in a Christian God I believe in a higher power but not the Christian God I do not believe a higher power exists I don’t know, or I am not sure it’s possible to know Mainline Protestant Evangelical Protestant Catholic / Orthodox Other religion Secular / no affiliation Once a week or more Once or twice a month Seldom Never Very important Fairly important Not very important 79% 7 Faculty 51% 18 U.S. Public 80% 12
5 9 53% 6 41 3 14 31% 31 30 8 41% 39 20
11 20 40% 8 25 11 17 32% 21 28 19 37% 34 29
6 2 18% 26 25 5 16 30% 25 28 16 54% 26 20
Excluding weddings & funerals, how often do you attend religious services?
How important is religion in your daily life?
Concerning belief in God, Simpson students hold views similar to the U.S. (Newport 2010). On the faculty side, traditional beliefs are underrepresented: there are a slightly larger number of atheists and way more agnostics (“I don’t know, or I am not sure it’s possible to know”) than the U.S. population. As for denomination, mainline Protestants are the majority among students. Evangelical Protestants are few and far between on Simpson’s campus, as is true at many liberal arts colleges. Catholics and other groups here are similar to their size in the U.S. public. What about church attendance? Here we found a few interesting differences. First, students in the 2011 survey were more likely to attend services once a week or more (31 percent) than students in the 2008 survey (21 percent). This trend occurs despite the fact that weekly church attendance in the U.S. public dropped in recent years by about 10 points. Interestingly, faculty attendance at religious services is close to attendance in the U.S. population. And what about the salience importance of religion in Americans’ lives? Here the findings seem to show that Simpson students and professors are less devout than the mean. The share of Americans who say religion is very important in their lives is 13 points higher than Simpson students and 17 points higher than professors. The share of professors who say religion is “not very important” in their lives is about ten points higher than the national average.
Tolerance The United States is increasingly diverse each year in terms of religion, ethnicity, and other key traits. With this growing pluralism in mind, it was important to ask students and professors about their views on groups that look, believe, or behave different than them. Many national surveys also ask this tolerance question at regular intervals. A recent poll used a “feeling thermometer” where respondents rated groups on a zero to one hundred scale to measure tolerance for different groups (Campbell 2011). The three groups that scored the lowest were Mormons, Buddhists, and Muslims. We asked students and faculty to rate their feelings about five groups: gays/lesbians, Mormons, Atheists, Evangelicals, and Muslims. The choices were listed on a five-point scale from very favorable to very unfavorable, as illustrated in the table below.
Measuring Tolerance: Student and Faculty Views of Different Groups in America “Thinking about specific groups in America today, what is your overall opinion of...” Very Somewhat Don't know Somewhat Very Favorable Favorable / No opinion Unfavorable Unfavorable 39 28 7 15 11 21 29 21 20 9 25 21 13 20 21 24 32 21 15 8 25 32 17 19 8 62 20 12 6 0 23 39 16 22 0 35 32 15 12 5 14 25 14 23 25 29 48 14 9 0
Gays/Lesbians Mormons Atheists Evangelicals Muslims Gays/Lesbians Mormons Atheists Evangelicals Muslims
According to our survey, Simpson students said gays and lesbians were the most familiar group (few students said “don’t know/no opinion”) and rated them the most positively (67 percent favorable overall). Evangelicals and Muslims were the next most favorable, followed by Mormons and Muslims. The Muslim group had the lowest student score (41 percent unfavorable). Professors showed more tolerance toward all groups than students, with one exception. Professors felt most positive toward gays and lesbians (82 percent), Muslims, Atheists, and Mormons, in that order. But they had mostly unfavorable views of Evangelicals (39 percent positive, 48 percent negative). Professors and students did not differ much in the number of “don’t know / no opinion” replies. The poll asked a final question to assess the tolerance of respondents toward Muslims, taking this issue to a local or personal level. The survey asked, “How comfortable would you be with the idea of Muslim-Americans establishing a mosque in your community?” Sixty-one percent of students (and 81 percent of professors) said they would be somewhat or very comfortable with it. Thirty-two percent of students (and nine percent of professors) said they would be somewhat or very uncomfortable with a mosque being built in their local community.
15 Same-sex Marriage Gay rights have been a hot topic in Iowa since the Iowa Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the Varnum v. Brien decision. In a Des Moines Register poll taken just after the 2010 retention elections that removed three Iowa Supreme Court justices (Forgrave 2011), Iowans were strongly polarized on the gay marriage question. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they opposed gay marriage; 32 percent supported it. Surprisingly, a large group (30 percent) said they did not care much one way or the other. Opinions on an amendment to ban gay marriage in Iowa were similarly split in three ways. In our 2008 poll, Simpson professors strongly opposed amendments to ban same-sex marriage (86 percent to 12 percent). Students in 2008 also opposed the ban (60 percent to 24 percent, with 16 percent saying “don’t know”). Even after including a new question option this year (“civil unions”), the opposition to a ban on gay marriage is solid. Eighty-six percent of professors accept the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage, eight percent would like to see civil unions instead (gay couples get some legal rights of marriage, but not called marriage), and six percent want to ban gay marriage. As for students, 65 percent support gay marriage, 20 percent favor civil unions, and 15 percent would ban gay marriage in Iowa. Overall, Simpson’s campus is much more supportive of same-sex marriage than the rest of the state of Iowa is. Finally, we analyzed respondents’ views on the controversial removal of three Iowa Supreme Court justices in the 2010 election – a move attributed to Iowans’ anger at the justices for the Varnum decision. In the Des Moines Register poll above, 44 percent of Iowans said removing the justices was bad for Iowa, 39 percent argued it was a good move, and 16 percent were undecided (Forgrave 2011). In contrast, Simpson students and professors strongly say the justices should not have been removed (89 percent to nine percent among professors, 73 percent to 13 percent among students). This may reflect strong support for same-sex marriage, a strong belief in preserving the independence of the judiciary branch, or a combination of the two.
Conclusions This report outlined key findings from the 2012 Simpson Survey. The results give new insight into politics on campus, partisanship, participation, issue views, and trends in respondents’ attitudes moving from 2008 into the 2012 election. To recap: • Simpson students’ levels of political knowledge, news attention, and campaign participation are low, but they are very involved in community service and have fairly high voter turnout. Students fall in the middle of the political spectrum in terms of partisanship and ideology. The students have moved just slightly to the right since the 2008 election. Professors, as expected, lean strongly to the left, even more so than faculty at other liberal arts colleges. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are the Republican candidates most likely to garner significant student support in the upcoming caucuses. President Obama’s support among students is much weaker than it was in 2008, primarily due to a faltering economy’s effect on his job approval.
Besides the economy, students are worried about issues like spending and deficits/debt. Professors are more concerned about income inequality and a “broken” political system. Simpson students lean slightly to the left of other Iowans on issues like the death penalty, taxes, and same-sex marriage. They are slightly to the right of U.S. voters on immigration, and are in line with public opinion on abortion. Like the U.S. public, students want leaders to focus more on issues “at home,” instead of international issues, at this time in history. Students have favorable views of most groups (except atheists), while professors have highly positive views of most groups (except Evangelicals). The campus largely supports the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, rejecting the idea that the justices should be removed.
In summary, the 2012 Simpson Survey provides the campus and community a comprehensive, detailed picture of who its students and professors are socially, politically, ideologically, and religiously. The data we collected is available online (http://www.simpson.edu/~bardwell/survey2012.htm) for further analysis by scholars and other interested parties.
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