This is a couple weeks old but that doesn’t matter because the problem it identifies isn’t a passing story. Dartmouth did a poll in April asking undergraduates how they would react in various social situations to someone with political beliefs different from their own. Specifically, each respondent was asked if they would date, befriend, trust, study with, or work on a class project with someone from the opposing camp.
Democrats were consistently more likely to indicate conflicting politics negatively affect potential relationships. While 82 percent of respondents who identified Democrats say they would be less likely to date someone with opposing political beliefs, only 47 percent of Independents and 42 percent of Republicans said the same. Similarly, 55 percent of Democratic respondents said opposite political views would make them less likely to befriend another student, compared to 21 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans. Only gender plays nearly as strong of a role in dividing responses. For example, 83 percent of women said they would be less likely to date someone with opposing political views compared to 56 percent of men.
Here’s a chart prepared by the Dartmouth showing the results. Note the phrasing of the question at the top. This is how each group responded to that question, i.e. being less likely to engage based on politics.
The story was similar when it came to taking a class from a professor with a different point of view.
Democratic students express less willingness to take classes from a Republican professor (38 percent) than Republican students do to take a class taught by a Democratic professor (23 percent). Conversely, Republican respondents said they are more likely to take a class taught by a fellow Republican (51 percent) than Democrats do for a class taught by a fellow Democrat (22 percent). Perhaps distance from the out-group matters more for Democrats, while sticking with the in-group is more important for Republicans at Dartmouth.
Here’s another reason why Republicans would be eager to take a class from a GOP professor: Everyone wants to see a unicorn! The question makes it sound as if Democratic and Republican students are equally likely to encounter a professor with an opposing view. But because college faculty leans heavily to the left, Democratic undergrads will rarely encounter a professor from the opposite party. Similarly, Republicans are unlikely to ever have the chance to take a class from someone who agrees with them politically. Of course, they’d be interested to find out what that’s like. Meanwhile, Democrats don’t have to express their preference for someone who agrees with them because that’s a given for most of them.
What about free speech on campus? This chart shows most Democratic undergrads don’t see a problem while the numbers are reversed among Republicans. Again, if you’ve never been in a class with a professor who disagrees with you it’s harder to see the problem.
Even a majority of Democrats agree that, in practice, people are afraid to speak up for fear of offending someone. But the agreement among Republicans on this question is 94 percent. Guess who is more afraid? Guess who is more likely to be offended at the drop of a hat?
What I think all of this shows is that Democratic undergrads who are already living in a bubble of partisan agreement are eager to perpetuate that bubble by disassociating themselves from anyone who disagrees. Their beliefs seem to be acting a lot like a religion or even a cult where you are strongly encouraged not to mix with outsiders lest you become corrupted by their heretical views.
Meanwhile, Republicans are much more willing to get along with anyone. I’d like to assume that’s because they’re open to seeing everyone as people first and foremost, but this may also be partly based on the fact they are heavily outnumbered on campus (Dartmouth undergrads are 67% Dem and 19% GOP). When you’re outnumbered by more than three to one, you’re likely to be more willing to tolerate differences. Otherwise, finding friends or dates could be very difficult.
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Democrats are far less likely to see the problem their group-think poses for people outside the bubble. Free speech isn’t a problem for them (so long as they say all the right things). But when it comes down to it, almost everyone (81%) is afraid of causing offense. If you’ve been paying attention to college campuses lately, it’s not hard to see where that’s coming from.
Saturday Night Live anticipated this survey: