Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Not just Harvard

My last post observed that Harvard students (and faculty) were mostly Republican until the 1940s, and pretty evenly divided in the 1950s and 1960s.  Of course, Harvard is not necessarily typical of American universities.  In the course of writing that post, I discovered the straw poll organized by the Daily Princetonian in 1936, which included 92 colleges.  I haven't been able to find the full list of results, but I found that the Princetonian organized a poll of 47 colleges and universities in 1932 (see the issue of October 28, 1932 in their archive). 

I divided the institutions into four groups:  (1) the South (2) elite private institutions outside the South (3) public institutions outside the South and (4) other private institutions outside the South.  The distinction between elite and others was made by expert judgment (aka my off the top of the head impressions).  All of the public universities included were "flagship" state universities.  They covered a wide geographical range, from Maine to California (Berkeley).  The average vote shares in the four types:

            Roosevelt  Hoover  Thomas   Foster
Southern        72%     17%     10%       0%
Elite private   17%     63%     19%       1%
Public          31%     48%     20%       1%
Other private   24%     42%     33%       1%

The actual vote in the election was 57% for Roosevelt, 40% for Hoover, 2.2% for Thomas (Socialist) and 0.3% for Foster (Communist).  Support for Hoover was much higher in elite private universities than among the general public.  Hoover's share in other universities was pretty similar to the popular vote for their region (Hoover got 42% of the vote outside the South but only 19% in the South).  

Support for Thomas was much higher in all types of universities than in the general public.  I expect that most of his supporters would have gone for Roosevelt as a second choice, and might picked Roosevelt if they were really voting, since third party sympathizers often are swayed by "don't waste your vote" arguments. Nevertheless, the Socialist party does seem to have been a serious rival to the Democrats on college campuses at that time.

PS:  I have put the totals for individual colleges in an Excel file.


  1. The overwhelming support for Roosevelt in the South in 1932 suggests that the correct dichotomy for campus preference, at least then, is not liberal/conservative, but Democratic/Republican. That would be consistent with the corresponding overwhelming support for Hoover at elite private universities, which (based on my expert judgment) were then more dominated by what came to be called the Establishment, a traditionally Republican cohort that comprised both what would today be considered liberal and conservative wings.

  2. Yes, there was more ideological diversity within the parties than there is today. But the Republicans were a predominantly conservative party, which means that students with conservative inclinations could comfortably settle down somewhere in the "establishment." That's not possible anymore: those who don't adopt prevailing views consciously define themselves in opposition to those views.