Poll: Religion, Morality Vital to College Students' Politics

Randy Hall | Staff Writer/Editor | Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Poll: Religion, Morality Vital to College Students' Politics

(CNSNews.com) - A new national poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics finds that seven out of 10 American college students believe religion is somewhat or very important in their lives, but they are sharply divided -- along party lines -- over how strong a role religion should play in politics and government today.

The survey of 1,200 college students was drawn randomly from a national database of nearly 5.1 million pupils. While a majority believes hot-button issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and stem cell research are issues of morality, many also agree that the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, education policy and Iraq war policy are also questions of morality.

"Religion is not only very important in the lives of college students today, but religion and morality are also critical to how students think about politics and form opinions on political issues," said Institute Director Jeanne Shaheen.

"The political parties and candidates should take note of the significant number of votes and key swing constituency that college students represent for the 2006 and 2008 elections," Shaheen added.

Among the findings of the poll are:

-- Religion is important in the lives of college students, but Republicans and Democrats may never agree on the role of religion in politics today. Seven in 10 college students say religion is important or very important in their lives. However, only 21 percent of self-identifying Democrats say they want to hear politicians talk about religion, while 56 percent of Republicans say the same.

Sixty-two percent of Republicans in college say that religion is losing its influence on American life and by a seven-to-one margin believe that is a "bad thing." Fifty-four percent of college Democrats say that religion is increasing its influence and by a two-to-one margin believe that is a "bad thing."

-- Morality plays a strong role in students' political views. College students believe many issues at the forefront of political debate today are closely linked to morality. Not surprisingly, a majority of students agree somewhat or strongly that hot-button issues like abortion policy (61 percent), stem cell research (51 percent), and same-sex marriage (50 percent) are questions of morality; but 50 percent also say the government's response to Hurricane Katrina was a question of morality.

Also, roughly four in 10 Democrats and Republicans agree education policy and Iraq War policy are questions of morality. However, Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans in believing health-care policy is a question of morality, and twice as many Democrats as Republicans say the same about the minimum wage (34 to 17 percent).

-- College students continue to support a more multilateral U.S. foreign affairs stance and are conflicted over unilateral action to prevent nuclear weapons development, including in Iran. Nearly three out of four college students (72 percent) believe the United States should let other countries and the United Nations take the lead in solving international crises and conflicts.

Students also struggle over the U.S. role in the development of nuclear weapons. Thirty-seven percent say they are unsure over whether the United States should stop the development of nuclear weapons in other countries, even if it requires unilateral military action, more than those who either agree (33 percent) or disagree (31 percent).

An identical number (37 percent) are equally unsure when asked specifically about the U.S. intervening in Iran's development of nuclear weapons.

-- More than seven in 10 students believe the United States should withdraw some or all U.S. troops from Iraq. Sixty percent of college students believe the United States should begin to withdraw troops from Iraq, a 20-point increase from six months ago.

However, only 12 percent of college students now believe the United States should withdraw all troops from Iraq -- a 10 point drop from a similar poll conducted this past fall.

-- President Bush's approval rating is still dropping as students continue to feel the country is on the wrong track. Only one-third of college students say they approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as president, down eight points from last fall. Following recent trends, students also continue to feel the country is on the "wrong track" rather than headed in the right direction. Fifty-eight percent (an identical number to the fall 2005 IOP poll) believe the country is on the "wrong track," while only thirty-percent believe the country is headed in the "right direction," down five points from October 2005.

Students at Harvard University's Institute of Politics, located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, designed the poll in consultation with professor David King and pollster John Della Volpe. Complete results and past surveys are available here.

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