Survey indicates that Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one on Wellesley campus
Student polls suggest Independents on campus favor Obama
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 04:10
Studies show that less than 15 percent of students on Wellesley campus identify as conservative, while the vast majority consider themselves liberal.
According to the 2012 Entering Student Survey conducted by the Office of Institutional Research (OIR), 60 percent of the first-year Class of 2016 identifies as “liberal” or “very liberal,” while only 5 percent identify as “conservative” or “very conservative.” Last year, the OIR Enrolled Student Survey revealed that 63 percent of all students consider themselves liberal and 12 percent consider themselves conservative. In a more recent survey of 165 students conducted by the Wellesley News, the number of Democrats exceeded the number of Republicans on campus by a ratio of seven to one.
Students agree that the political climate at Wellesley is decidedly left-leaning, a trend that some students argue may diminish political debate on campus.
“I think that statistically, overwhelmingly, most of the students here are liberal, most of the faculty is liberal, we’re in a liberal part of the country [and we’re] in a liberal area,” Angelina Spilios ’14, co-president of the Wellesley College Republicans, stated. “I think that it’s hard for more conservative students to speak up unless they’re the kind of person who doesn’t care and will just speak their mind.”
Jillian Seymour ’15, co-campaign coordinator for the Wellesley College Democrats, agreed that conservative students face a bias from their peers on campus.
“Sometimes when you say you’re a Republican at Wellesley, there are a lot of negative connotations that come with that,” Seymour stated. “I don’t think that’s very conducive for a good learning environment.”
The college resource website College Prowler ranks Wellesley number 41 in its list of the top 100 Most Liberal Schools. Over the last several decades, Wellesley students have remained predominantly liberal. The number of conservative students on campus peaked during the Reagan era in the 1980s, but continued to hover around 20 percent during that period. Since then, the number has steadily declined and, over the last decade, has settled at roughly 10 percent.
Many current students are concerned that the strong liberal majority hinders debate on campus.
“There is little if any political debate [at Wellesley],” one anonymous conservative student said. “Expressed opinions outside of Wellesley’s liberal norm are met with glares, chastisement and disbelief. For a political debate to exist, there must be a willingness to engage in discourse.”
“I think a lot of liberals here refuse to acknowledge that conservatives ever have any good ideas,” Taylor Cranor ’16, a Democrat, stated. “It’s very discouraging to see how polarized politics are, even here.”
Other students are more optimistic about the political climate at Wellesley, asserting that liberal students are more open to debate than others may think.
“Some Republicans I know have used the metaphor of ‘being closeted’ politically on campus because they don’t feel comfortable expressing their beliefs, but I’ve talked to enough republicans independently about this that I think that if they chose to make their opinions known they would be supported more than they think,” Esther Gonzalez ’13, an Independent, stated.
According to the national 2011 Freshman Survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, college freshman across the country are divided fairly evenly along party lines. 27 percent of college freshmen identified as liberal, and 20.7 percent identified as conservative, the large majority of students falling under the category “middle-of-the-road.” While the political climate at Wellesley runs contrary to the national trend, many liberal arts colleges exhibit the same liberal tendencies.
“If you went to Amherst, Williams, Smith, Macalester [or] Pomona, I don’t think we’d be noticeably different from other schools in our category,” Professor of Political Science Tom Burke stated. “Whatever the answer is, it doesn’t have to do with Wellesley per say. It has to do with liberal arts colleges.”
Geographical location and the religious culture on campus may contribute to the political climate of Wellesley. According to College Prowler, among the top five most conservative schools are Brigham Young University, Bob Jones University and Liberty University, all private Christian universities.
Despite a clear conservative minority on Wellesley campus, 50 percent of students polled by the Wellesley News reported that they were satisfied with the level of debate. 16 percent of students stated that they were dissatisfied.
Anne West ’15 pointed to an unusually high level of discussion that has emerged as a result of the presidential race, which is scheduled to draw to a close in one week. West suggested that the race has galvanized discussion in spite of the wide gap in political affiliation on campus.
“There are two things you should never discuss in polite conversation—religion and politics—and this is that time every four years when everyone is talking about them,” West said.
The level of divisiveness is relatively low on campus, according to many students.
Both Seymour and Spilios attested to a positive relationship between the Wellesley College Republicans and the Wellesley College Democrats. This fall, the Republicans and Democrats collaborated with the Committee for Political and Legislative Awareness (CPLA), a student-run, non-partisan political organization, to host screenings of the 2012 Presidential Debates.