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As Freshmen, They Voted for Trump. Has College Changed Their Minds?

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tags: Donald Trump, 2020 Election, colleges and universities, young voters



They went to college in surreal times, bookended by a brutal election in which a reality-TV star upended American politics, and a global pandemic that derailed their in-person graduation plans. They were all college freshmen when Donald Trump was elected president, and they all supported the businessman in 2016.

Bobby Gannon, a physics major at North Central College, in Illinois, thought Trump’s trolling of liberals was funny. Kayla Bailey, from Liberty University, lamented Trump’s personal conduct but felt he was the best candidate for her beloved West Virginia, a state torn by poverty and drug abuse. Regan Stevens, from the University of Northern Iowa, traveled to Trump’s inauguration, the prize for working full time knocking on doors for the long-shot candidate. And Rebecca, who graduated from Ohio State University and asked, for professional reasons, that her last name not be used, voted for Trump partly because she thought Hillary Clinton was “extremely corrupt.”

Many of these students came from Republican households, in conservative areas, where supporting the GOP was what most people they knew had done for as long as they could remember. So after four years or so of college, have their views changed?

College cleaves American society. Republicans are increasingly distrustful of higher education, viewing it as a bastion of liberal indoctrination. The American public in general has soured on higher education in recent years, but the distrust has become most intense among Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center: In 2019, only 33 percent of Republicans said college has a positive effect on the country, a 20-percentage-point plummet from 2012.

Voting data from 2016, meanwhile, showed that a college degree was a major fault line between Trump supporters and those who backed Clinton. A post-election analysis of exit polls and federal data by the Brookings Institution found that Trump won every state below the national average for percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees except Maine, Nevada, and New Mexico. Hillary Clinton won every above-average state except Kansas and Utah. Trump, it seems, was onto this trend from the nascent days of his political career. As he put it during the 2016 Republican primary, “I love the poorly educated.”

But what about the well educated? The ones who supported him even before they went to college, and then earned a bachelor’s degree? What role did the college experience itself have on their support for Donald Trump?

The Chronicle attempted to contact more than 15 people who were college freshmen when President Trump was elected, and who indicated in newspaper stories at the time that they supported him. Four agreed to speak about how college has shaped their political thinking, and whether they were planning to vote for Trump again in 2020.

 

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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