US college students are more activist than ever—meaning that most don’t care at all

Gradual changes.
Gradual changes.
Image: Reuters/Christopher Aluka Berry
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From Yale to Brown to the University of Missouri—American college campuses have been rife with student protests in the past year. The surge of activism has had a ripple effect: a new national survey of incoming college freshman finds US students are the most politically and socially engaged they’ve been since the poll was launched 50 years ago.

About 8.5% of the 141,189 first-year students polled in the University of California, Los Angeles’s 2015 higher education research program study said they expect to participate in campus protests while in college. That’s a sizable increase from 5.6% in 2014.

But of course, the findings also show that nine out of 10 American freshmen don’t expect to participate in student protests at all while in college. Broken down by race, the likelihood was lowest for Native Americans and Asians (5.8% and 6%, respectively) and highest for black respondents (16%).

In addition, only about 60% of the respondents said they expected to vote sometime during their college years—an oddly low percentage, considering the imminence of a high-profile presidential election, though at least higher than the 50% in 2014. And, of course, UCLA’s cooperative institutional research program only began tracking the responses of US college freshmen 50 years ago, so there’s no telling how the level of campus activism today compares to prior periods in history.

The report does note that roughly one-third of students in 2015 identified as “liberal” or “far left,” representing the highest proportion of left-leaning students since 1973.