The political beliefs and behaviors of Gustavus students: this was the topic given to students in the fall 2012 Analyzing Politics class, a research methodology course required of all political science majors. Students picked research questions of interest to them related to this general topic. Together, they designed a survey of Gustavus students and conducted their own independent research projects to supplement the survey data. The project is still in process, but here are a few of our findings to date.
By Matt Erdahl
Are Gusties who are more involved in extracurricular activities more politically active? Survey data and interviews are expected to show that more involved students are also more political. Trends in early data show that large numbers of Gusties are planning to vote in the election this November. However, there is a portion of the campus that believes that voting is not important enough that everyone should vote. To many Gusties, knowing who and what to vote for is even more crucial than the act of voting itself. In past generations, emphasis was placed on civic duty, such as voting and responding to jury duty. Now, a good citizen has a mind of his or her own and expresses that in multiple ways that do not fit the mold of the past.
Issues that Matter to Gustavus Students
By Alex Barziza, Kyle Hilding and Jordan Greene
Over the course of this semester we have found that the most important political issue to our student body is social justice. This finding contradicted our hypothesis that the economy would be the largest concern considering the upcoming election. Our interviews explore how Gustavus causes students to question their political beliefs as they become more knowledgeable and understanding of opposing political philosophies. Specifically, we discovered that a professor’s impact is prevalent as they challenge students to think about issues from an alternative perspective. Also, fellow classmates play a large role in inspiring political discussions that facilitate new or different political ideas as compared to preconceived political beliefs. Our survey of Gustavus students shows that there are three issues which maintain the highest level of concern among students: social justice, education, and the economy. 26% of Gusties listed social justice issues as the most important issue, and in a tie for second, education and the economy each received 22% of the vote.
Religion and Politics
By Kelly Dumais, Taylor Logeais and Christina Sand
Our group wanted to explore the impact of religious participation on the political views of Gusties. When people think about religion or faith at Gustavus, they usually think Christianity, or even more specifically Lutheranism. However, out of fifteen randomly selected interviews of students on campus, only four individuals identified themselves as Lutheran.
Nationally, religious affiliations are closely tied with political affiliations. We wanted to see if this was the case on our campus as well. Politically, the majority of individuals have identified as Democrats, but others identified as Libertarian or Republican. The majority of students we interviewed felt there was cohesion between their personal political views and religious views, even if their religious institutions do not back their political opinions. This is surprising because, while we have only encountered three different political affiliations, we have interviewed students from seven different religious identities, suggesting that political perspectives are not bound by specific religious affiliations.
Internet Usage and Political Involvement
By James Urquhart
Interviews I conducted with students indicate that participants who are more politically active, both on and off campus, are more likely to feel influenced by the internet in general. Respondents with greater levels of political involvement feel the internet has impacted their political participation in a positive manner: increasing their likelihood to vote, voice their opinions, etc. People click and read what they want to click and read. One interpretation of my findings is that it is not the amount of time one spends on the internet that ultimately impacts political participation, but rather what people do on the internet. The vast majority of respondents who felt that news-based websites, rather than gaming, online shopping, social media, etc. dominated their daily internet usage were more politically active, and more likely to politically participate. Those who chose to spend their time differently were generally less politically orientated, and felt the internet had very little influence on their lives.
The Impact of Studying Abroad
By Siana Adrian, Annalise Dobbelstein and Tom Olsen
Chances are you know more than a few people that have studied abroad during their time at Gustavus. How are all these students affected by their time spent abroad? Our research examines this question by looking at the political participation, ideology, political efficacy, and the students’ views on the U.S. through interviews with eighteen students with study abroad experience, nine from western countries, and nine from non-western countries.
We find that most students that came back from studying abroad did increase their political activity. It seems to be the stereotype that if one studies in India they will come back a guru, immediately joining fourteen groups and eating exclusively offs the cafeteria tray conveyer, becoming freegans. Our research confirms this stereotype. Students who study abroad in western countries are not inclined to develop new political habits or beliefs, whereas those who study in non-western countries, though pre-disposed towards strong participation and beliefs, came back with an even larger desire to participate in politics. They seem to develop a strong sense of political efficacy, meaning they believe their participation can make a difference. This is likely developed through a study abroad programs that emphasize grass roots politics and community based efforts.
Did You Know?
52% of students at Gustavus identify with the democratic party, and 21% identify with the Republican Party. The other 26% idenify with either “none” or “other” as the description for their political preference.