For those who thought Covenant Students were, on the whole, pretty well educated, politically aware people, a recent survey might come as a surprise.
Last semester, Dr. Cale Horne’s Public Opinion class — made up of Dan Allis, Siler Johnston, Ryan Ostrowski, Ryan Parr, Jung Shin, Peter Wilkerson, and Keifer Wynn — designed and conducted a survey to measure political awareness at Covenant and determine what factors affect awareness.
The group took a random sample of all full-time traditional undergraduates, living both on and off campus. One hundred and fifteen students (a little over one tenth of the student population) took the survey, which was given face to face by one of the students in the class. Horne mentioned that the sample happened to be slightly skewed toward males and sophomores, but didn’t think this affected the survey’s validity.
The survey began by collecting information on each respondent’s GPA, class rank, gender, denominational background, secondary education, parents’ professions, political party identification, and race. After collecting this general information, the survey moved on to a set of 10 questions designed to assess factual knowledge about American politics, such as “Who is the vice president of the United States?” or “Who is Rick Perry?” These questions were drawn from national surveys, and were intended to be elementary. The average respondent answered five out of the 10 questions correctly. “Given the content of the questions,” said Dr. Horne, “this seems a little low. It’s disappointing.”
To compare political awareness to general cultural awareness, the survey went on to ask students to identify 12 cultural icons — six politicians and six musicians, actors or athletes. On average, respondents identified 5.3 pop icons, but only 3.2 politicians.
After conducting the survey, the class analyzed the results for determinants of political awareness. They found that students who had gone to private school were 8 percent more aware than public schooled and home schooled students. Students who self-identified as Democrats were 12 percent less aware than others. Students from pastoral or missionary families were 7 percent less aware, and social science majors were 10 percent less aware than others. Several other factors surprisingly turned out to be nonsignificant, such as GPA, denominational background, class rank, and gender. Perhaps the strangest finding, however, was that students at Covenant College, “the college of the Presbyterian Church of America,” are significantly more likely to identify themselves as Republicans (70 percent) than Reformed or Presbyterian Christians (59 percent).