The High School Student Body Takes the Pew Political Typography Quiz (Kind of), Favorability Ratings, and More
For decades, younger adults have held more liberal positions than those older than them, a phenomenon more true today than ever before. An October 13 Chegg Election Tracker poll found that 69% of college students nationally back Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden, compared to the 20% who support President Donald Trump. In an October 19 The New York Times/Siena College Georgia poll, the age 18-29 age bracket favored the former Vice President by 18 points (52% to 34%). Furthermore, Vice President Biden’s popularity among suburbanites and white people with college degrees has skyrocketed, and 45% of AJA respondents said their political views were similar to at least one of their parents — who all unanimously fall into one or both of those categories.
Taken together, it is unsurprising that AJA students (when undecided was removed as an option), backed Vice President Biden by a 2-to-1 margin (60% to 28%). Additionally, 51% of students identified with the Democratic Party, compared to just 35% who identified with the Republican party. Only about 14% identified themselves as independents.
By party, President Trump lost one Republican respondent to Vice President Biden and another who declared they would not vote if only given the two major party options; the sitting president received 85% of the Republican vote (which serves as a strong reminder about small sample sizes). Only one Democrat defected from the party’s nominee, but declined to back President Trump and said they would not vote.
Across the board, girls responded with more liberal answers than boys, and upperclassmen responded with more liberal answers than lowerclassmen.
The first trend mirrors the national situation, in which men back Republicans at higher rates than women in all age, race, and socioeconomic categories. AJA boys were split evenly, with 45% favoring President Trump and 45% favoring Vice President Biden; girls leaned to the Democratic nominee 74%-11%. By grade, Vice President Biden held a 6-point lead (41% to 35%) among 9th and 10th grade students and a 36-point lead (59% to 23%) among 11th, and 12th graders respondents stood by the challenger, 59% to 23%.
Interestingly, the age gap can be attributed to differences between upperclassmen and lowerclassmen girls. While boys in both age groups voted similarly, President Trump trailed among younger girls 57%-29%; on the other hand, not a single girl in 11th or 12th grade said they would vote for the incumbent president.
After asking about presidential preference and party ideology, Palette posed a series of questions pulled from the Pew Research Center’s Political Topography Quiz and then determined favorability on a host of politicians and policies. While the more liberal option prevailed (nearly) every time, the fluctuating margin can be revealing.
The overall trends indicate that AJA High School students are more liberal on social matters relative to economic issues. Questions that mainly touch on the social sphere feature an even stronger liberal lean than largely economic topics — although even then, the results have a clear liberal bent.
“Across the board, girls responded with more liberal answers than boys, and upperclassmen responded with more liberal answers than lowerclassmen.”
The student body split dramatically on social issues. For example, 90% of respondents said that “homosexuality should be accepted by society” and just one respondent said it should be discouraged. AJA students agreed with “immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” more than “immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing, and health care” by 77% to 10%. Nearly 50% more students (72% to 23%) agreed that the United States “needs to continue making changes in order to give black people equal rights with white people.” 66% of students either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported stricter gun laws, compared to just under 16% who expressed some level of opposition. 50% of respondents supported Medicare-for-All with just 20% opposed — a smaller gap, but perhaps more striking since such a policy is unpopular among the general public (54% think it is a “bad idea,” 41% think it is a “good idea” in a Marist poll). 71% of students said that abortion should be legal in “most” or “all” cases, compared to the 24% who argued abortion should be illegal in most or all cases.
While a liberal economic outlook remains the norm among AJA students, that is true by a smaller margin when compared to the aforementioned social issues. For example, just 36% of students agreed with the statement, “Government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest,” while 31% chose, “Government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.” On arguably the most pure-economics question asked, only about 54% of those who knew enough to answer the question answered with the liberal option.
A similar pattern appeared regarding questions about government waste, the ability of people to “get ahead,” the fairness of the American economic system, and the government’s ability to take on additional debt “to help needy Americans.” The first two of those questions featured about a 17-point margin between the two answers; the second two had about a 35% margin. Even a 35% difference is significantly less than the 50% that social topics featured.
In any case, the responses to both the social and economic “political topography” questions reinforce the understanding that the student body of the High School is liberal on nearly all survey topics. As mentioned earlier, this was expected due to age factors and President Trump’s dismal standing among educated and suburban white voters, who, as parents, are naturally heavy influences on AJA students.
“The overall trends indicate that AJA High School students are more liberal on social matters relative to economic issues.”
It would be impractical to continue to dissect the results of every single question of the survey in this manner. Elsewhere, we have written about some trends we noticed about tribalism and oppositional, negative partisanship, especially among Republicans (here), and an overall shift to progressivism, particularly with Democrats (here). We also noticed that girls responded that they didn’t know enough to answer the question at higher rates, which you can read about here. Besides from that, we encourage readers to look at our full results, including helpful visuals and crosstabs broken down by grade, gender, party identification, and more, accessed here.
Before perusing the data, it is important to note quirks about two questions. Survey-takers’ gave feedback that the question about homosexuality was confusingly worded, since “accepted” and “discouraged” are not strictly opposites; while this phrasing didn’t seem to concern Pew, it could have tainted our results. A similarly important caveat applies to the favorability to the “protests in response to the death of George Floyd,” which a few students — liberal students, per their other answers — described as pushing respondents to support the demonstrations, since it excluded any association of violence and riots in conjunction to the protesting.
To conclude with a few interesting tidbits that will perhaps spark the reader’s interest: For all that progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is regarded as possessing outsized influence among young voters relative to her stature as a first-term congresswomen, she garnered the second-most “don’t know” answers of any of the politicians tested, ranking only behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; and speaking of Sen. McConnell, a full two-thirds of AJA Republicans don’t even know enough about him to formulate an opinion. For more of these nuggets, the reader is once again invited to look through the full results.
Correction (9:53 pm on November 1, 2020): A previous version of the article mistakenly switched the percentages of students who favored each option on the ideological question about immigration.