(CNSNews.com) - A leading cultural analyst Tuesday said results from a recent Harvard poll, in which President Bush got a higher job approval rating from college students than from the general public, stems from growing patriotism on American campuses, especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The students are also being turned off by Democratic Party negativity, the poll indicated.
The poll, conducted by the Harvard University Institute of Politics (IOP), found 61 percent of college students approved of Bush's job performance, about 10 points higher than the rating Bush got from the general public, according to the IOP.
"Defying conventional wisdom, 31 percent (of college students) identify themselves as Republicans, 27 percent as Democrats and 38 percent Independent or unaffiliated. The general population is significantly more Democratic," a Harvard IOP news release on the poll stated.
Phone interviews of 1,202 college undergraduates were conducted between Oct. 3 and Oct. 12 for the poll, which has an error rate of plus or minus 2.8 percent. Results were published Oct. 22. The IOP conducts the poll twice a year, with the next one coming up in April.
Conservative cultural critic David Horowitz, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture (CSPC), attributes the poll findings to a cultural sea change across the nation's campuses.
"The conservative students on campus have been cowed by the faculty left, which has enormous power - power over their grades, over their futures - but 9/11 really changed the attitude of the conservatives," Horowitz told CNSNews.com. "I think these kids got very proud of being Americans, very resentful and upset with their professors for organizing anti-American demonstrations on their campuses and bringing it into the classrooms."
Horowitz, who speaks at colleges all across the nation in a campaign to foster intellectual diversity in higher education, said he's been privately told numerous times about the increased "hectoring" of students by left-leaning professors since the war on terror broke out. And he said the poll shows that Democrats are experiencing a "blowback" from co-eds.
"It's the combination of the patriotic feeling coupled with the academic abuses that galvanized this movement," Horowitz said. "The second thing is that the support for Bush is because the Democrats have been so negative on the war, they don't have a positive way to fight the war on terror. All they've done is snipe at the president and sabotage the effort."
However, John Chavez, Harvard junior and chairman of the IOP survey, said that while Bush's approval numbers were higher among college students, the poll also showed that young people are more independent and politically active than in recent years.
According to the poll, 56 percent said they would definitely register to vote. Thirty-eight percent identified themselves as independents, 31 percent Republicans and 27 percent Democrats.
"Students are, by and large, more willing to get involved with the political process," Chavez told CNSNews.com, pointing to the 21 percent of students who said they had participated in a government, political or issues-based organization, which marked an increase of 7 percent since 2002.
"They don't see the political process as being dirty as much as they have in the past; it's something they see as being a positive outlet for change," Chavez said.
Chavez said it's difficult to attribute the results to any one cause.
"I think that civics education has gone a long way to improve attitudes of young people toward politics. September 11th has made people more aware of the political impact on their lives. And especially with freshmen, their parents are still very much of an influence on them, and they're teaching them that politics is something they should be getting involved with," Chavez said. The 2000 presidential election, he added, proved "how every vote does matter."
Horowitz said he was not surprised by the increased activism among young people, especially as reflected in the IOP Spring 2003 survey. At that time, 35 percent of students said they had attended a political rally or demonstration, a number that dropped to 26 percent in the latest poll.
Harvard IOP pointed to anti-Iraq protests as the likely cause for the spike earlier in the year, but Horowitz offered a different view of the growing activism on college campuses. He pointed to grassroots lobbying for the Academic Bill of Rights, a CSPC project in conjunction with Students for Academic Freedom, a national coalition of student organizations backing the initiative.
So far, Horowitz said chapters have emerged on 95 campuses nationwide, all in support of the bill, which would require that no political, ideological or religious orthodoxy be imposed on professors and researchers through the hiring or tenure or termination process, or through any other administrative means by academic institutions.
"I think we're seeing a moment of convergence here, not in a small part because of our agitation over the Academic Bill of Rights," Horowitz said. "The (school) term only started two months ago, and we've already got 95 chapters being organized, and we get students calling every day about organizing a new chapter. This is a movement whose time has come."
For its part, Chavez said Harvard IOP, along with a consortium of 12 other colleges, has embarked on an initiative to get students more politically involved, regardless of their party affiliation. While still mostly in the planning stages, Chavez said projects include a politically oriented internship database, a rating system on cities for "youth friendliness" in allowing young people to get involved in politics and an absentee voter guide to spell out what college students, most of whom vote as absentees, need to do to get their ballots in and on time.
"We don't care who you vote for, but what we do care about is that people of our generation understand that political decisions are being made that impact us. And we're just trying to get that realization out there," Chavez said.
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