Less Than Half of Students Feel Comfortable Expressing Political Opinions on Campus

In a BestColleges survey, Democrat students are more likely than Republicans to feel comfortable voicing their opinions on campus.
By
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Lyss Welding
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Higher Education Research Analyst

Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and senior editor for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evalua...
Published on June 7, 2024
Edited by
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Jessica Bryant
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Senior Data Reporter

Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
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Data Summary

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    44% of students feel comfortable expressing their opinions on campus without fear of negative consequences.
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    By political party, 54% of Democrat students, 39% of Republican students, and 36% of other students feel comfortable expressing their opinions without fear of negative consequences.
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    The majority of students (64%) agree that college students should be allowed to make political statements at school without fear of negative consequences.
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    Just 42% agree that college students are able to speak their minds about political issues at school without fear of negative consequences.
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    Nearly 1 in 3 students (31%) say they have experienced limitations in expressing their opinions on campus.
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    54% of surveyed students believe college tends to encourage liberal/progressive attitudes.

Lately, college campuses have become a focal point for free speech concerns. A recent survey of 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students reveals how students feel about voicing their political beliefs at school and how their feelings vary depending on their self-identified party affiliation.

In BestColleges' survey, 44% of students report feeling comfortable expressing their opinions on campus without fear of negative consequences.

Most students (64%) agree that college students should be allowed to make political statements at school without fear of negative consequences. However, only 42% say students can speak their minds about political issues without fear of negative consequences.

Remarkably, 1 in 3 students (31%) report having personally experienced free expression limitations at school.

In 2023, the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research investigated Americans' attitudes about whether state-funded schools should be able to restrict certain speech or instruction. The results revealed a complex picture of free speech on college campuses.

Just over half of adults (54%) polled by AP-NORC said students should be allowed to promote the views of specific political or religious groups on campus. However, adults were more likely to say that liberals — versus conservatives — can freely speak their minds on campuses. Respondents also said that colleges sufficiently provide inclusive environments for liberals but not conservatives.

BestColleges' survey shows that just over half of current students (54%) think college tends to encourage liberal or progressive attitudes. Students who identify as Democrats (56%) and students who identify as Republicans (61%) tend to agree that college encourages liberal or progressive attitudes.

Students' Free Speech Beliefs and Experiences Vary by Party Affiliation

Democrat students are more likely than Republicans to feel comfortable voicing their opinions on campus. They are also more likely than Republicans to support students making political statements at school and somewhat less likely to report limitations on their free expression.

Just over half of Democrat students (54%), 39% of Republican students, and 36% of other students feel comfortable expressing their opinions without fear of negative consequences.

Seventy-two percent of Democrat students, 64% of Republican students, and 53% of other students say college students should be able to speak their minds on political issues without fear of negative consequences.

Meanwhile, just half of Democrats (51%), 40% of Republicans, and 32% of other students say college students are able to speak their minds without fear.

Additionally, Republicans are somewhat more likely than other groups to report having experienced roadblocks to free expression at school. Thirty-six percent of Republicans, 31% of Democrats, and 27% of other students say they have personally experienced limitations to expressing opinions on campus.

Methodology

This survey was conducted from Mar. 20-28, 2024, and was fielded by Pure Spectrum. Survey participants included 1,000 respondents nationwide who were currently enrolled in an on-campus (52%), online (16%), or hybrid (32%) undergraduate or graduate degree program. Respondents were 18-62 years of age, with the majority (77%) ages 18-24, and currently pursuing an associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, or professional degree. The respondents for the survey were screened by various quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy.

A note on party affiliation: Survey participants included 410 Democrat students, 298 Republicans, and 291 students in the other category. Other students include students who identify with a political party other than the Democratic or Republican parties, who do not identify with a party, or who prefer not to share their party affiliation. Removing the number of students who did not disclose their party affiliation (n=24) did not substantially change the percentages of other responses.