By Richard Dye
BYU, along with the rest of Utah, stands firmly behind President Bush, according to a recent survey.
The Daily Universe conducted an informal poll with a volunteer sample of 300 BYU college-age adults in several classes between Feb. 15 and 17, 2006. The poll shows that students largely approve of Bush”s handling of his presidency – a result that coincides with that for Utah”s population in general.
The level of support is significantly higher than the national average, which, according to one BYU professor, is just the way it is in Utah.
Kelly Patterson, an associate professor of political science, said the consistent support for President Bush here stems largely from the political nature of the state.
The mystery, though, is why BYU follows this pattern with a student body that comes from all over the world.
Patterson said the social and religious influences that permeate everyday life at BYU are reflected in students” voting habits. Various influences combine to create each individual”s political ideology, and while some believe BYU students act on blind allegiance, he disagrees.
He believes that BYU students” political behavior stems from shortcuts. He said students don”t know what the president”s stances are generally, so instead they rely upon those around them, the people they trust and the media to which they are exposed, for their opinions. Parents and family sometimes do the processing for the individual, which is usually based on very little information, Patterson said.
While students trust the information they get from these sources, Patterson said he would not consider that trust to be blind allegiance.
“Do you do what your parents do? Yeah,” he said.
Parents” party identification is a powerful predictor of what their children”s party identification will be, he said. Two other major influences on voting habits and thinking are college and church.
Religious leaders largely influence political ideology at religious institutions like BYU, Patterson said. They send powerful signals on how to think about a whole range of moral issues. The LDS church even has local leaders read a letter over the pulpit encouraging political activity and participation, Patterson said, although they don”t tell members who to vote for.
Education level also has a lot to do with the political values students learn, Patterson said. It makes a difference in how people approach issues and, he added, more educated voters in Utah tend to be more moderate politically.
Brayden King, a political sociologist and an assistant professor in the department of sociology, agreed.
Most people who go to college are exposed to diverse experiences in background and beliefs, King said. But BYU students” experience isn”t necessarily the same. Students tend to look for evidence to support their views, rather than challenge them.
As students are exposed to more diverse perspectives over the course of their college career, they become a little more self-critical of how they come to form their political beliefs, King said.
“As these [college] students near the end of their education, their political views will be more moderate,” he said.
Another question is whether all the student support really makes a difference in the polls come Election Day.
The age group of 18-25 year-olds, into which most BYU students fall, has a horrible track record of voting, Patterson said. Nationally, only 20 to 25 percent in this age group actually votes, he said, making them the least likely to vote of all age groups.
BYU is a slight exception, however. Although young adults have the least amount of specific political knowledge and are the least likely to be politically active, BYU students are more active than most.
Patterson estimates that 30-40 percent of BYU students vote.
That figure is somewhat predictable, however, when one considers that college students are more likely to vote than non-college students in the same age bracket, Patterson said.