While two-thirds of seniors surveyed identify as liberal, they appeared to have become more liberal and more politically polarized during their time at Harvard. When surveyed as freshmen, 15 percent the members of the Class of 2017 identified as conservative. This is similar to what seniors reported now: Fourteen percent of surveyed seniors said they were conservative before coming to Harvard. Now, just nine percent of seniors surveyed identify as conservative. Two percent of seniors surveyed identified as “very conservative.”
By contrast, 17 percent of seniors surveyed said they described their political views as “very liberal” before coming to Harvard, and 23 percent identify as “very liberal” now.
Further, there was a drop in the number of students who identify as moderate. A quarter of the class entered Harvard as “moderate,” according to the 2013 freshman survey, compared to 21 percent who identify as moderate now.
- Students from the Southeast and Midwest showed the largest transformation in ideology—10 percent of students from the Southeast identified as “very liberal” coming into Harvard; that number changed to 24 percent. Similarly, 13 percent of students from the Midwest identified as “very liberal” before Harvard, and 20 percent identify as very liberal now.
- 68 percent of seniors surveyed identified as “liberal” or “very liberal,” 21 percent identified as moderate, and 10 percent said they were “conservative” or “very conservative.”
- Seventy-one percent of women identify as liberal, compared to 63 percent of men.
- Forty-eight percent of seniors surveyed identified as registered Democrats, while seven percent identified as registered Republicans and 19 percent identified as registered Independents. A quarter of surveyed seniors said they were not registered voters.
A Class of Trump Rejecters
Seniors at Harvard overwhelmingly disapprove of President Donald Trump—93 percent of those surveyed have an unfavorable view of Trump. This picture differs significantly from national sentiment, according to a recent WSJ/NBC News poll, which put Trump at an unfavorability rating of 52 percent.
- Twelve percent of respondents who are or have been members of male final clubs have a favorable view of Trump, compared to two percent of students who have never been in a final club or other off-campus social organization. The proportions for those in Greek organizations and female final clubs were similar to those who had never been in an off-campus social organization.
- Thirteen percent of students who were varsity athletes all four years approved of Trump, compared to two percent of students who had never been athletes.
- Ninety-five percent of women disapprove of Trump, compared to 92 percent of men.
- Ninety-seven percent of black or African American seniors, 93 percent of white seniors, 91 percent of Hispanic and Latino seniors, and 95 percent of Asian seniors have an unfavorable view of Trump.
Seniors surveyed also overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump’s policy goals.
- Ninety-five percent of respondents disapprove of Trump’s immigration ban that attempted to bar citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
- Fifty-five percent of seniors surveyed disapprove of “draining the swamp”—a metaphor commonly used by Trump that refers to addressing alleged corruption in the federal government.
The 2016 Election and a Disillusioned Class
Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election sent shockwaves through Harvard’s campus and may affect members of the Class of 2017 in the longer term. Just 3.5 percent of seniors surveyed said they voted for Donald Trump, compared to 89 percent of seniors surveyed who reported they voted for Hillary Clinton.
The members of the Class of 2017 are generally disillusioned with the state of politics in America. Three-quarters of surveyed seniors reported thinking the country is on the wrong track, compared to eight percent of respondents who think the country is on the right track. By comparison, 27 percent of surveyed seniors the Class of 2016 said they thought the country was on the right track.
Seniors are disillusioned with Congress and both political parties.
- The Republican Party, which now controls both houses of Congress and the White House, has few supporters in the Class of 2017: only seven percent reported a favorable view of the party, compared to an 84-percent unfavorability rating.
- Similarly, only 12 percent of seniors had a favorable view of Congress, compared to a 54 percent disapproval rating.
- Former President Barack Obama enjoys widespread support among seniors, with an 88 percent approval rating. Seniors also largely hold a favorable view of the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who had a 70 percent approval rating.
- About 64 percent of surveyed seniors have a favorable view of Clinton’s left-wing opponent in the Democratic primary, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
- The Democratic Party, meanwhile, was not as popular as its leaders. Only 50 percent of seniors reported a favorable view of the party. Thirty-six percent of respondents disapproved of the party.
- Seventy-seven percent of women think the country is on the wrong track compared to 73 percent of men.
A fifth of surveyed seniors reported that the 2016 election results changed their postgraduate career plans in some way.
- Of those who said the election results changed their plans, 12 percent said they took a job in the public sector instead of the private sector. Another 10 percent reported that they now hope to run for public office.
- While Trump’s scandal-racked presidency has caused a surge of activism on campus, the election did not always galvanize seniors into public service. Among those who said the election changed their plans, 37 percent said they had been considering jobs in the federal government but decided against pursuing one.
In a year rocked by national discourse on political correctness, 64 percent of seniors surveyed reported that they have chosen not to express an opinion in an academic setting during their time at Harvard out of fear that they would offend others.
- Eighty-three percent of seniors surveyed who identify as conservative reported choosing not to express an opinion, compared to 59 percent of liberal seniors.
- Among white seniors, 66 percent said they have chosen not to express an opinion, compared to 47 percent of black seniors, 58 percent of Hispanic seniors, and 64 percent of Asian seniors.
Nearly 40 percent of seniors surveyed believe faculty should have trigger warnings, or statements on their course syllabi warning students when they cover sensitive material. This marks a 9 percent increase in support from the Class of 2016—just 31 percent of those students surveyed supported trigger warnings.
- Forty-five percent of women support trigger warnings, compared to 32 percent of men.