Facebook shows students moving left

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September 21, 2007

4:04 AM

Data from Facebook.com shows that among the 3,000 undergraduates at the College who list a political stance, liberals outnumber conservatives more than 2.8 to 1. Older students are the most likely to list themselves as liberal, while the freshmen have a slightly smaller 2.6 to 1 ratio. According to comparable data gathered by The Flat Hat two years ago, when members of the Class of 2009 were freshmen, their ratio of liberals to conservatives was much lower at 2.1 to 1.

p. However, during their time at the College, the classes of 2008 and 2009 have moved sharply left. By sophomore year, students in the class of 2009 had 2.5 liberals for each conservative. Now that ratio is up 2.84 to 1.

p. This data may indicate that the College has a liberalizing effect on students, Chancellor Professor of Economics Will Hausman ’71 told The Flat Hat.

p. “Do students get more liberal during their college years? I think so,” Professor Hausman said. “Partly because faculty tend to be more liberal than the general population (or general population of parents with students at the College.) Does this mean they are biased? I do not think so.”

p. Although there has been much attention about disaffection with the two-party system, the number of students listing “Other” or “Libertarian” affiliations, now at 8 percent, is up just 1 percent since 2005.

p. Statistics also confirm a political gender gap. Among female students there are more than 3 liberals for each conservative, but with men the ratio is only 2.5 to 1.

p. There are several limiting factors to consider when using Facebook data. Only 3,000 undergraduates, 53 percent, list their political affiliation or have an account accessible to anyone within the College network.

p. Since not everyone lists a political stance, there could be biases in the data. For instance, students who hold unpopular opinions and decide not to list their views on Facebook may cause the ratios to look bigger than they actually are.

p. “[The statistics] are indicative, not definitive,” professor Hausman said. “[But a] 53 percent response rate is quite respectable and certainly sufficient to make statements about.”

p. Students have also been tightening privacy controls since 2005. The number of viewable profiles in the class of 2009 has fallen by one-fifth since then, either due to restricted accessibility to accounts or account deactivation.

p. “It could be the case that people who identify as liberal would be more willing to announce [their beliefs], whereas conservatives might be more privacy oriented,” visiting Economics professor Jason Hulbert told The Flat Hat.

p. Facebook officially releases current college-wide data, which includes statistics from graduate students and alumni, for all universities. Based on this data, the College, as a whole, is more liberal than most other Virginia public universities, including the University of Virginia, University of Mary Washington, George Mason University and James Madison University. The College is only slightly more conservative than Virginia Commonwealth University.

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