Riverdale’s Political Culture: A Detailed Analysis of School Polls
Riverdale has long had a reputation as a very liberal school. Most conservative students have always complained of feeling alone as they wander the halls of our elitist product of capitalism. But are they as alone as they claim? If Riverdale really is a liberal school, is it because liberal parents send their kids here, or are kids turned liberal by the curriculum? These are the questions we set out to answer in our monumental poll sent to the Upper School student body.
With 194 responses, we believe these results to be a relatively accurate reflection of student body views at the time the poll was taken (September 18th to September 27th, 2016).
STUDENTS ON POLITICAL IDENTITY AND THE CANDIDATES
First off, let us look at whether Riverdale actually is a liberal (supportive of a larger government and more progressive policies) school. The answer: yes it is. We asked students to rank themselves from one to five, one being very conservative and five being very liberal. The average response was 3.7, decidedly left of center. And yes, with only 11% of the student body identifying as a conservative (answering with a one or a two), they might have a right to feel a little lonely.
But we did not just take students’ word for it. We were worried that some students who should have been in the three or four category in the poll actually responded as a five, or some other similar error. To verify the high levels of liberalness, we also asked about students’ positions on various issues considered to be split along liberal and conservative lines (more on the specific responses below). We then used their responses to calculate another one to five scale for each students that was independent of their perceived liberal/conservativeness. Remarkably, the average score this returned was also 3.7, same as the average perceived liberal/conservativeness. Students, however, were on average 0.53 more liberal or conservative than they thought they were.
Only 11% of the student body identifies as a conservative.
What does this translate into in terms of who the Riverdale student body is supporting in the upcoming election? Unsurprisingly based on this data, 66.7% of students are supporting Hillary. Trump and Gary Johnson are tied in our poll with 5.7% each. Jill Stein is just barely attracting support, with a whopping 1% of students backing her. There were also large amounts of apparent dissatisfaction with any political candidate, with 12.5% of students supporting no one. This number is actually probably higher as by a mistake, the option of not supporting anyone was not available to many of the first respondents. Lastly, 8.3% of students are yet to make up their mind. However, if we do not count the students who are not sure, Hillary’s support rises to 72.3%, Trump and Johnson’s support rise to 6.25%, and Stein’s support skyrockets to 1.1%.
WHAT ABOUT THE PARENTS?
So, Riverdale students are largely liberal; do they get it from their parents? And furthermore, how likely are students to have the same political views as their parents?
25.13% of students support a candidate that neither of their parents support.
The average Riverdale parent is 3.4 on the same one to five liberal/conservativeness scale. This is slightly more conservative than the student body, but still left of center. A possible place this data got skewed was people putting their parent’s views as a three when they did not know their views.
So the student body is about 0.3 points more liberal on average than Riverdale parents, but the difference between each individual student and their own parents is actually on average 0.75 points.
So students tend to have similar views to their parents, though tend to be slightly more liberal. This is backed up by the 25% of students who are supporting a presidential candidate that neither of their parents are supporting.
25% is a significant percentage, so there are a large group of students who have staked an independent political identity from their parents.
While parents are less liberal than students, a larger share of them are supporting the democratic nominee. Not counting parents whose support students were not sure of, 78.1% of parents are supporting Hillary, 7.69% for Trump, and 4.73% for Johnson. 24.61% of parents are supporting different candidates, and the average difference between parent’s political views (on the same one to five scale as earlier) is 0.75. Note, we did not ask whether parents are still together.
STUDENTS ON THE ISSUES
This is where some of the most exciting and surprising data came in. First off, while not surprising that the Riverdale student body leaned a certain way on these issues, it was perhaps surprising the level of unanimity around the issues of gun control, abortion, and recognition of inequality as a major issue. 86% of the student body mildly or strongly supported increased gun control, 91% supported a woman's right to choose, and 83% thought that inequality was a major issue facing the US. The student body also leaned heavily towards supporting taking in some Syrian refugees, with 70% giving strong or mild support.
Riverdalians were split on Mexican immigration, political correctness, the death penalty, the welfare state, and US support of Israel.
Only 45.9% of students think undocumented immigration from Mexico is not a major issue, and a third of students are neutral on the topic. This is surprising given widespread immigration support among America’s left. It is possible that the student body is actually further to the left on the topic of immigration than these numbers present, as some students might think undocumented immigration is a major issue yet support mass immigration reforms.
With 45% (and 27% neutral) more students than not thought that political correctness was a major issue in the US. This is perhaps because of the mass scrutiny the idea of being “PC” has come under over the past few years, from Trump to professors and even typically liberal publications such as The Atlantic. Yet it is surprising given the liberal leanings of students.
Students leaned against the death penalty, with 52% thinking we should get rid of it. We counted abolishing the death penalty as liberal in our calculations of students’ liberal/conservative leanings on issues scores, though we recognize this issue is less partisan than others.
More students than not thought that political correctness was a major issue in the US.
57% of students also supported creating a stronger welfare state, which is again surprisingly low given how liberal students are. One possible explanation are fiscal conservatives who are socially liberal identifying themselves as liberal. Another is people not knowing what the question was asking. A welfare state, if unfamiliar with the term, can sound scary and orwellian.
Lastly, students were pretty evenly split on whether the US should increase aid to Israel, with 37% in favor, 38% neutral, and 25% opposed. There was significantly higher support towards increasing aid among those who identify as Jewish. This is contentious but we counted answers opposing an increase in aid as liberal. However, we are hesitant to draw any conclusions about student support of Israel from this. Students can think the US should support Israel, and personally support the state of Israel, but think the US already provides adequate aid. This question was poorly phrased to gage support of Israel. We are sorry.
We also asked students about their religious beliefs in the poll, curious as to whether there was any correlation with either a certain religion or being particularly religious and certain political views and beliefs. Other than Jews being more likely to support Israel, none was found.
Judaism was also the most common religious belief, accounting for 35% of students. Christianity was second with 20%, Atheism and Agnostic/Spiritual were tied with 17.6%.
Students overwhelmingly believe they are better informed about the news and current events than their friends, with less than 7% saying they are worse informed. The take away here is that students have low opinions of their friends’ levels of knowledge.
Everyone believes they're well informed.
Students overwhelmingly get their news from The New York Times, with 67 of the 127 who provided their main sources of news naming it. Second was CNN with 36 students citing it as a main source. Other common sources were BuzzFeed (16 students), The Hill (9 students), Politico (9 students), MSNBC (9 students). All other sources had six or fewer.
Students inherit their political views from their parents, to a point. Many students have views independent from their parents, but their parents’ view is still often a good indicator of what their views are.
The student body leans liberal, though not very liberal. Students are not going to be setting up any communes any time soon, though if they do, it is likely to be a Kibbutz.