The Graduating
Class of


by the numbers

Election 2016

By Steven R. Watros and Cordelia F. Mendez

On Commencement Day, Donald Trump’s level of support looks far different within the gates of Harvard than it does among the American public: Only 4 percent of likely voters polled in the Class of 2016 say they would vote for Donald Trump in a general election matchup against Hillary Clinton, who would get 87 percent of the surveyed senior class’s vote.

The picture in the general public is much different, with a recent CBS News/New York Times poll showing that 41 percent of registered voters prefer Trump in a matchup against Clinton, while 47 percent support the former Secretary of State.

But among certain populations of Harvard seniors, support for Trump runs stronger. Varsity athletes and members of traditionally male final clubs, for example, were more likely to report supporting Trump. And his supporters reported prioritizing different issues in the presidential election than those who support Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

While some news outlets have reported that Harvard students overwhelmingly support Bernie Sanders—and that Hillary Clinton supporters are met with backlash—data from a survey of the senior class suggests that those claims are largely false, at least among the Class of 2016: More than twice as many seniors surveyed said they prefer Clinton, and her supporters were more steadfast in their support, reporting in larger numbers that they would consider voting for a third-party candidate should their preferred candidate not prevail.

And in a year that has seen increased attention to issues of free speech and what some call the rise of “political correctness” on college campuses, a majority of Harvard seniors say they have refrained from sharing certain opinions in the classroom out of fear that they could offend fellow students.

The Candidates

Asked to choose between the three candidates remaining in the 2016 presidential primary race, the vast majority of likely voters in the surveyed senior class—67 percent—said their preferred candidate is Hillary Clinton, while only 5 percent prefer Donald Trump and 28 percent support Bernie Sanders. The Manhattan billionaire, however, has greater support along Mt. Auburn Street and across the Charles River in Harvard’s athletic facilities.

  • Thirteen percent of respondents who played a varsity sport sometime while at Harvard said they support Donald Trump; only 3 percent of students surveyed who were never varsity athletes prefer him.
  • Male athletes were more likely to say they prefer Trump: 23 percent of that group support Trump, compared to 6 percent of non-athlete male respondents.
  • Twenty percent of respondents who reported being members of traditionally male final clubs, including the two groups that recently opened their memberships to women, said they support Donald Trump, compared to 4 percent of surveyed seniors who have not members of these clubs.
  • Among likely voters surveyed, only 35 percent of registered Republicans say they prefer Trump. But only 9 percent of seniors who are likely to vote said they are registered Republicans, compared to 52 percent who are registered Democrats and 39 percent who are not registered members of a political party or are registered as independents.
  • About 11 percent of surveyed students with an unfavorable view of Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said they prefer Donald Trump, while only 2 percent of respondents with favorable views of the dean support Trump.

Responding to hypothetical general election scenarios, seniors maintained low levels of support for Trump.

  • Roughly 9 percent of respondents said they would consider voting for him; 87 percent said they would never consider voting for Trump, while 4 percent were unsure.
  • In a matchup against Hillary Clinton, only 4 percent said they would vote for Trump, while 87 percent said they would support the former Secretary of State.
  • Trump fared slightly better in a hypothetical general election against Bernie Sanders: 79 percent said they would support the Vermont senator, while 7 percent said they would vote for Trump.

Trump’s support was particularly low in the 2016 primary cycle, with only 2 percent of Harvard seniors surveyed saying they had voted for him in Massachusetts or their home state.

  • Among Republican candidates, Marco Rubio scored the most Harvard senior votes: 6 percent of senior primary voters surveyed said they voted for him.
  • Fifty-five percent of primary voters surveyed said they voted for Hillary Clinton.
  • About 34 percent of senior respondents said they voted in this season’s primary. Forty-two percent said they did not vote, although they were eligible; 13 percent said they were ineligible to vote; and 11 percent reported that they are registered in a state that had not yet held its primary.

And while it appears increasingly likely that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, 37 percent of her supporters surveyed said they would consider voting for a third party candidate if she is not nominated. At 30 percent, Bernie Sanders’s supporters were less likely to say they would support a third-party candidate if he is not nominated.

Party Atmospheres

While the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee for 2016 garners just single-digit support among surveyed members of Harvard’s Class of 2016, the GOP fared much better among Harvard seniors in the 2012 presidential election: 19 percent of surveyed seniors then eligible to vote reported voting for Mitt Romney. And today, many Republican seniors say they feel embarrassed by the party that nominated Romney in 2012.

  • Most of Romney’s former supporters surveyed—57 percent—say they plan to vote for Hillary Clinton this November. Only 27 percent of Romney’s 2012 supporters in the surveyed class say they plan to vote for Trump, and 16 percent prefer Bernie Sanders.
  • About 69 percent of Republicans surveyed reported feeling embarrassed by their party during the current Republican primary cycle.
  • Not a single female registered Republican surveyed reported feeling proud of the party.
  • No registered Republican surveyed who said they support Clinton or Sanders reported feeling proud of the party.
  • Democratic voters were more optimistic about their party: 58 percent reported feeling proud of their party during the campaign process. Only 7 percent report feeling mostly embarrassed.

Issue Voters

A plurality of surveyed voters—23 percent—in the Class of 2016 reported that the economy was the single most important issue in their choice for president. Economic inequality and foreign affairs were the second and third most popular choices, respectively, but issue importance fluctuated within certain groups.

  • About 54 percent of Trump supporters listed the economy as their most important issue; 27 percent of voters supporting Clinton said the same and 7 percent of Sanders supporters did.
  • After the economy, Trump supporters said that the way Washington is run and terrorism were the single most important issues to them.
  • In contrast, Clinton and Sanders supporters were more likely to choose the economy, economic inequality, or foreign affairs as the single most important issue. Sanders supporters were the group were most likely to choose climate change as their most important issue.
  • Larger percentages of women than men prioritized abortion rights, economic inequality, or health care policy.

Survey results also reveal a senior class that mostly approves of the current executive branch of the U.S. government but is far more negative on the Republican Party and its Congress. Views on social and economic issues were split along gender lines and among Trump and non-Trump supporters.

  • Roughly 85 percent of seniors surveyed said they approve of President Barack Obama, while just 7 percent said they approve of Congress.
  • About 56 percent of respondents indicated that they have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, while the Republican Party garnered a 4 percent favorability rating.
  • While 68 percent of surveyed seniors are in favor of legalizing marijuana, 47 percent support a national minimum wage of $15.
  • Twenty percent of male seniors surveyed said they were in some way confident that black and white people are treated equally by police, as opposed to 10 percent of women surveyed and 14 percent of respondents overall.
  • Race was also a point of departure for how seniors viewed police treatment of black Americans: 6 percent of black seniors said they were in some way confident that the police treat white and black people equally, while 15 percent of all other ethnicities felt the same.
  • About 78 percent of Trump supporters were confident that all races are treated equally by the police, in contrast to 10 percent of non-Trump supporters.
  • Roughly 35 percent of men surveyed said they think the country is going in the right direction, compared to 20 percent of women; 27 percent of all respondents said they think the country is going in the right direction. Thirty-five percent of men surveyed believe the U.S. is on wrong track, while 43 percent of women surveyed feel similarly (39 percent overall).
  • Seventy-six percent of Trump supporters think the country is on wrong track, compared to 37 percent of Clinton and Sanders supporters.

Classroom Politics

Many pundits and politicians—such as Donald Trump—have expressed concerns over the role of what they call “political correctness” in American society, and The Crimson’s survey of the Class of 2016 polled seniors on their feelings on the role of politics in the classroom.

The majority of seniors said they do not think faculty should include a statement on course syllabi warning students when they cover sensitive material; 31 percent said faculty should post such a statement, sometimes known as a “trigger warning.”

  • About 51 percent of all respondents said they think faculty should not include such warnings on their course syllabi. Seventeen percent were unsure.
  • Eighty-five percent of Trump supporters surveyed said they do not believe faculty should warn students about sensitive course material on their syllabi. A smaller proportion of non-Trump supporter respondents—49 percent—said the same.

Seniors surveyed were more likely, however, to say that they have chosen not to share certain opinions in the classroom out of fear that they might offend their classmates.

  • Sixty-nine percent of all respondents said they have chosen not to express an opinion in the classroom for this reason.
  • About 85 percent of Trump supporters surveyed, meanwhile, said they have chosen not to express an opinion in class for this reason, compared to 68 percent of non-Trump supporters.
  • Roughly 73 percent of respondents who said they are very or somewhat religious said they have chosen not to express an opinion in class for this reason, compared to 67 percent of surveyed seniors who said they are not religious or not very religious.
  • Republicans surveyed, however, were not much more likely than their non-Republican peers to say they have chosen not to express an opinion in the classroom.