For Midwestern students, election isn't close at all

While national polls continue to show the two presidential candidates in a statistical tie, if Midwestern University students are any indication, Mitt Romney will win the national election by a landslide.

A poll of MSU students showed that more than half of the students support Republican candidate Mitt Romney, while only one-third support Democratic candidate and incumbent Barack Obama.

"We really shouldn't be surprised by this," Assistant Professor of Mass Communication Bradley Wilson said. "We live in a conservative state and in a conservative part of that state. However, some research has shown that college students tend to be a bit more liberal than the general population. Midwestern students, however, clearly reflect the conservative values of the surrounding area."

Sarah Long, a senior in mass communication and one of the organizers of the poll, said it also came as no surprise to her.

"We are definitely a red state," Long said. "We are groomed to go with Romney. We're in a pretty conservative town in a conservative state with generally conservative values and beliefs."

Of the registered, likely voters who answered the survey, 53.2 percent supported Mitt Romney, while only 34.3 percent supported Barack Obama. The remaining 12.5 percent supported someone else or were undecided.

Similarly, 39.8 percent of the more than 500 respondents said they were Republican. And keeping with a national trend identified in a Gallup Poll last spring indicating that the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as political independents has increased, 28.5 percent of students identified themselves as Independent.

"Our students are keeping with national trends toward the increasing number of independents," Wilson said. "In some cases, this shows that students are tired of the increasingly partisan political system and tend to vote based on other factors than just political party."

A Pew Research Center poll released in October of 2012 showed that 33 percent of Americans identified themselves as Democrat, 24 percent as Republican and 43 percent as Independent/Other. Including the "Something Else" category, 39.2 percent of MSU students identified themselves as neither Democrat or Republican.

North Texas, however, is clearly a conservative area. Of the 25 most-conservative cities in America, four of them are in North Texas (Lubbock, Abilene, Plano, and Arlington), including two of the top three. Of the top 25 most-liberal cities, none were in Texas, according to an analysis by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research of every American city with a population greater than 100,000. Wichita Falls and Amarillo, Texas, failed to provide voting results for this national study.

In the gubernatorial election of 2010, Wichita County residents voted for the Republic incumbent almost three to one. In the 2008 presidential election, Wichita County supported John McCain and Sarah Palin by more than 40 percent over Barack Obama and Joe Biden even when only 55.5 percent of the state voted Republican. In 2006, Wichita County supported Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, giving her 70 percent of the vote compared to a statewide tally of 62 percent. In 2004, while 61 percent of Texans voted for Republican George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, 71 percent of Wichita County went for the Republican ticket. According to the town's history, Wichita County voters have voted "solidly" Republican in each presidential election after 1976.

"Not only is Wichita County Republican, it's really Republican," Wilson said. "Part of that is due to the influence of being in rural America. Part of it is being in Texas. And part of it is the influence of the military base. A confluence of factors make this a very conservative and Republican area of a pretty conservative and Republican state."

However, it is not, by far, the most Republican county in the state. When the counties are ranked in order of percentage of Republican voters in statewide elections, Wichita County consistently falls near the middle.

Religion

A Pew Research Center poll conducted this past summer showed that for most Americans, their votes will have little to do with the nominees' religion.

"There is little evidence to suggest that concerns about the candidates' respective faiths will have a meaningful impact in the fall elections," the Pew Research Center reported July 26.

Survey results show the same thing appears to be true for MSU students.

"Given the focus on religion in this election, we asked students if they thought religion  had played too big of a role in the election. They didn't," Wilson said.

This is the first Republican ticket without a Protestant since 1860. Both candidates for vice president are Catholic. And the country has the first Mormon on a national ticket.

"While there are significant issues regarding religious faith being discussed in the election, the students seemed to focus on other issues," Wilson said.

For Long, however, religion was an important issue. As a Mormon, she said she believes the campaign is giving people a chance to discuss faith and its role in government.

"The Baptist faith is very prominent in this part of the country," Long noted. "It's been an eye-opening opportunity for some students even to recognize the Mormon faith. A lot of people don't recognize the Mormon faith as a Christian faith."

Long said religion may not have a direct influence on political outcomes but indirectly influences a lot of political issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion.

"Politicians often make their decisions based on their religious beliefs," Long said.

Statistically, 39 percent of students said they either disagree or strongly disagree with the statement, "Religion has played too big of a role in this election." Almost 29 percent said they agreed or strongly agreed with that statement.

Abortion

When it came to abortion, MSU students tended to sway toward the Republican stance on abortion but did not find it as polarizing an issue as it often is nationally. Almost half (48.9 percent) said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement "Abortion is never acceptable," a stance similar to the one taken by candidate Romney personally. Romney has repeatedly stated he is pro-life but is less clear on how he would deal with legislation on the issue, although he has stated he would support a repeal of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling establishing abortion rights, and that he would end federal aid to Planned Parenthood.

The 2012 Republic Party Platform included statements similar to previous party platforms. "[W]e assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage."

Long said students often realize the issue is more complex. And for women, it is even more complex.

"Some people who are gung-ho about their faith feel abortion is murder, regardless of why it is done," Long said. "However, other women realize there is much more to it. Republican or Democrat, some people believe in a woman's right to choose and that it should not be left up to a governing body of mostly men to decide such issues."

Campaign finance

The students, who, overwhelmingly, said they felt well-informed about the election, did not at all reflect generally mainstream Republican ideals about the financial limits in U.S. elections. More than 75 percent of the students said they agreed or strongly agreed that "There should be limits placed on the amount of money given to groups trying to influence U.S. elections."

"While Romney has periodically called on a repeal of all campaign limits, and while Republicans historically have not supported limits on fundraising, including a repeal of the McCain-Feingold legislation enacted in 2002, our students seem to disagree with that aspect of the Republican platform," Wilson said. "Maybe that shows a bit of sophistication on behalf of the students who realize that something needs to change with way the elections are financed. It will be interesting to see what today's student leaders do about that as they move in to positions to influence that change."

The 2012 Republican platform "opposed any restrictions or conditions that would discourage Americans from exercising their constitutional right to enter the political fray or limit their commitment to their ideals."

Healthcare reform

When it came to healthcare reform, the students agreed with the Republican candidate's stance against healthcare reform. Almost 60 percent of them said they did not support healthcare reforms popularly known as "Obamacare."

"In this one question, the students most closely identified with the ideals of the Republican candidates," Wilson said. "This was interesting simply because students in this age group have little experience with the healthcare system. Perhaps, then, they are most susceptible to the statements issued by candidates and the political establishment."

Limited government

Perhaps influenced by traditional Republican ideologies as well as by the popularity of the populist Tea Party movement, MSU students clearly believe in limited government. Indeed, more than 60 percent of them agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that "the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses." Only 4.7 percent of the survey respondents strongly disagreed with that statement.

Survey methodology

The online, anonymous survey was distributed by email link to every student at Midwestern State University who did not have their e-mail address blocked: 5,867 students. Five hundred and nineteen students responded, for a response rate of 9.2 percent, surpassing trends in such political polls that show an average response rate of 3-7 percent.

Of them, 85.7 percent were registered to vote, and more than three-fourths (77.3 percent) of the students who responded said they were likely to vote in the election.

UPCOMING DEBATE

Staff members of the Midwestern State University student media outlets, the Wichitan newspaper and Campus Watch broadcast, will continue their exploration of political issues by sponsoring a debate Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. at Akin auditorium. Laura Gilbert will represent the College Republicans and Zachary Zoet will represent the MSU Democrats at the debate. Gwyn Bevel, TV anchor at KFDX, will moderate the debate. For information on the debate, contact Sarah Long at (972) 757-2901 or sarah.long.0819@students.msutexas.edu.