Peer Influence on Political Preference Post 1: Survey

My interest in this particular topic was especially heightened this fall around the time of the 2016 Presidential election. I found most students were liberal and not afraid of expressing their support of candidates for the Democratic party. Many who were not as inclined to be outspoken regarding their political preferences were not necessarily ill-informed regarding the current political climate or lacked interest in the election. They had something in common, they were moderate or conservative and did not identify with Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton, nor Donald Trump. They did not want to express their opposition for Clinton, as it might be confused for support of Trump. Many of those who I talked with were cautious to discuss any specific candidates in fear of being associated with the presented characteristics of a Trump voter. I felt that the reason why many moderate and conservative students believed that they could not express their political opinions on campus because they were in such a political minority, yet as I talked with more and more students, I quickly realized that William & Mary has a significant population of moderately conservative and conservative students.

This all lead to the development of my political preference research project. Just by observing campaigns and political action coalitions targeted at college-aged students, one infers that social issues are their greatest concern. From this survey, I hope to find that average political preference of students as the College is moderate, yet that social issue preferences are skewed more liberal. I predict this may be a result of a greater number of social issue political action groups at the College as opposed to fiscal action.

In the survey, I ask a variety of questions to gauge political preferences and understand where they come from. To identify different groups within the sample, I ask demographic questions such as year at the College, gender identity, country of origin, home state (if from United States), type of hometown, and age of voter registration. From this I will be able to see the trends of Virginia students versus out of state, among types of hometowns, and those who took an active effort in political involvement by registering to vote at age 18. To investigate the subject’s political preference and involvement, I ask several scale based questions. To measure political involvement and mobilization, subjects will be asked questions about various outlets of involvement such as political organization membership, voting, and contact with elected representatives regarding themselves, their family, and peers at the College. These are assessed on a scale of not active, sparingly active, somewhat active, very active, and extremely active. I will also investigate frequency of political discussion in various outlets, such as peers, family, strangers, and social media on a scale of never, rarely, sometimes, often, and always. Using the scale of extremely liberal, moderately liberal, moderate, moderately conservative, and extremely conservative, I ask about political views on various social issues like abortion, immigration, and climate change. Finally, I inquire about the subject’s position on the political spectrum and with which political party they identify most.

I look forward to seeing the results of the survey and learning more about political engagement and preferences among College students.


  1. emmalecki says:

    Hey Megan!

    Your project sounds really interesting! I think it will be very relevant especially in our current political climate.

    I am curious as to how you are distributing your survey. Were you able to get a random sample from William and Mary’s student body? If so, I think this research could end up with some important results related to how political conversations on campus are facilitated and could lead to greater understanding of the culture at William and Mary. Definitely something to consider if you are thinking about taking your project further as the school year begins. Good luck with the survey, looking forward to what you find!

  2. I’m really interested in seeing your results of this survey, and where students at the College fall on the political spectrum. I agree that public discourse and opinion on politics was definitely heightened in light of the 2016 presidential election, and the hesitancy of many to admit their politically moderate beliefs could have stemmed from worry that opposition of one candidate implied support of the other. One thing I am wondering is if you will be investigating if students’ political opinions are changing over time. I’ve heard that family tends to have a major influence on political beliefs. Do you think that with greater time away from family, political opinion changes more? Interested to see your findings and find out more about political engagement at the College!

  3. mdelbianco says:

    Thank you for your comment! I asked subjects about their political activity currently and prior to coming to the College. I was advised not to ask subjects about their past political preferences, as they are often not accurate. Instead, I will compare younger subjects (Class of 2021 and 2020) to older subjects (Class of 2019, 2018, and 2017). I anticipate younger subjects to be more influenced by parents and older subjects more by peers. I definitely think that time away from family allows individuals to develop their own political preferences (It did for me!).

  4. mdelbianco says:

    Thank you for your comment! I used a simple random sample with emphasis of having a distribution on younger and older students at the College. My final sample does not exactly match the demographics of the College due to not everyone responding. However, the demographics are at most 5% off from the demographics of the Class of 2020.

  5. brhighland says:

    This sounds like an interesting project. I wonder, though, are you going to attempt to draw any conclusions about the William and Mary community from the data that you collect. Obviously, you will be able to see quantitatively the number of responses in each category for each political leaning, but I am curious as to whether or not you plan to make any educated guesses about the political culture these numbers create. For instance, does a substantial population of right leaning or moderate students who are not comfortable speaking their suggest that William and Mary does not do enough to promote honest discourse? Is there a culture of shame? Alternatively, is this population indicative of a growing number of students who, instead of engaging with mind expanding ideas, come to college with the goal getting a degree, getting a high paying job, and living their life comfortably?

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