Do Stereotypes Match Reality?

By Connor Thompson '14

In a recent poll, 645 Hendrix alumni from across the decades were questioned on issues pertaining to their personal political beliefs and the way these beliefs shape their opinions about recent controversial policy decisions and the upcoming presidential election.

The poll was conducted by Dr. Jay Barth '87, M.E. and Ima Graves Peace Distinguished Professor of Politics, and Roby Brock '88 of Talk Business, an Arkansas-based media outlet dedicated to statewide politics and business.

Since 2010 Barth and Brock have collaborated on polls that focus on Arkansans' attitudes toward local, state, and national politics. On occasion, Barth also involves Hendrix students in polling work.

In general, the results of the poll indicate that Hendrix alumni, taken as a group, are politically active and lean to the leftward end of the ideological spectrum. This, perhaps, is not much of a surprise given Hendrix's reputation, but closer analysis of the cross-tabulations reveal some interesting insights.

Two questions examined hypothetical scenarios for the 2012 general election. In both, President Barack Obama is the overwhelming choice of Hendrix alumni.

In a two-person race between Obama and leading GOP candidate Mitt Romney, Obama leads 65%-30% (with the remaining undecided).

The second question examines possible implications of a third-party Ron Paul candidacy on a general election contest between Obama and Romney. Obama's results remain largely unaffected by a Paul candidacy while Romney's results seem to decline roughly in proportion to the number of voters who would choose Paul. In the generational cross-tabulations, Paul's support is a mixed bag with a slight skew towards younger respondents.

A majority of respondents across each decade responded favorably to the job President Obama has been doing. Alumni from more recent decades do express slightly greater levels of support for the President. Hendrix alumni are also positively disposed towards Obama's signature legislative accomplishment: federal health care reform. Alumni across the decades indicate support for the Affordable Care Act with younger alumni the most supportive of the plan.

On the questions asking for self-identification in party and ideology most respondents across the decades identified as both "Democrat" and "liberal." However, the majority of the respondents from the 1960s and 1970s identified themselves as "moderate" ideologically while still remaining firmly "Democratic" in their party leanings. This, perhaps, runs counter to stereotype of student radicalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, there are indications that these students have grown more moderate since their college days; the number of alumni who identified as "more conservative" for the 1970s especially is higher in comparison with the other groups.

On one of the most discussed social issues of contemporary times, most Hendrix alumni feel that gay couples should be legally allowed to marry; unsurprisingly, the percentage generally increases as one moves toward younger generations with more than three in four alums from the past decade supporting marriage equality.

Finally, one question examined where alumni get their news. Here, there is an interesting trend in the cross-generational results: the percentage of people who selected "radio," while relatively marginal overall, continually increases as one moves from older respondents to younger ones. It is striking that radio — seemingly an archaic medium of communication for 2012 — is most popular among the younger generations. For alumni from the 2000s decade, radio is the second most popular news source after internet/blogs. This seems to suggest that modern radio, be it Rush Limbaugh or Robert Siegel, has made a comeback in shaping the political discourse and that perhaps it has become an attractive alternative to the talking heads/sound bite culture of cable television.

Connor Thompson '14 is a philosophy major from Little Rock.