The fall 2001 survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLAs Graduate School of Education and Information Studies finds that 29.9 percent of students entering four-year colleges and universities characterize their political views as liberal or far left, the highest percentage in two decades, and substantially higher than the 20.7 percent who consider themselves conservative or far right. The overall percentage of todays liberal freshmen increased from 27.7 percent last year and 21.0 percent in 1981, but is still lower than the all-time high of 40.9 percent recorded in 1971. Most students labeled themselves middle of the road (49.5 percent, down from 51.9 percent last year).
Although students are less likely to identify themselves as liberal than they were in the early 1970s, the popularity of the liberal label has increased for five consecutive years and is at its highest point since 1975, said Linda Sax, UCLA education professor and director of the survey.
The tendency toward liberalism among the 2001 freshmen is evident in their changing attitudes about a wide range of social and political issues, including the death penalty, drug testing and gay rights.
A record-high 57.9 percent of this years freshmen believe that same-sex couples should have the right to legal marital status (compared to 56 percent last year and 50.9 percent in 1997). Only one-fourth (24.9 percent) of entering students advocate laws prohibiting homosexual relationships, compared to 27.2 percent last year. This is a significant decline from the record high of half (50.4 percent) of students who agreed with the statement in 1987, and a record low since the question was first asked in 1976.