Women in College Are Moving Left—But Men Are Migrating to the Right | Opinion

College students are more politicized than at any time since the late 1960s. College Pulse's Future of Politics survey held interviews with over 1500 undergraduate students at 91 different colleges and universities at the end of summer break and found that 84 percent report that they are currently registered to vote—more than the 69 percent in 2016 and 80 percent in 2020. Meanwhile, three-quarters of students say the country is going in the wrong direction and that they are motivated to do something about it.

Students are divided in their voting preferences, the survey found, but the most consistent division was a surprising one: between women and men. 30 percent of college women identify as Democrats today and only 20 percent identify as Republicans. In elite universities, the difference is greater: 45 percent of women in top-25 ranked colleges identify as Democrats, compared to only 7 percent as Republicans.

What's surprising is that men in universities have moved in the opposite direction: 39 percent of college men identify as Republicans, almost double the 21 percent who identify as Democrats. And these percentages hold up in elite universities: 40 percent of men in top-25 ranked colleges identify as Republicans, while only 25 percent as Democrats.

It appears that men at universities are moving to the Right as women shift to the Left, in what appears to be the beginning of a backlash.

These differences between women and men seem quite firm: 58 percent of college women report they cannot imagine registering as a Republican in the next ten years, while 52 percent of college men cannot imagine registering as a Democrat in the same period. In contrast, two-thirds or 66 percent of women foresee the possibility of becoming a Democrat, while nearly two-thirds or 64 percent of men contemplate becoming Republicans.

women and men in college

Moreover, unlike in most other places, in universities, men register to vote at higher rates than women. 88 percent of all college men report that they are registered to vote, compared to 82 percent of college women. The gap is the same for elite schools: 92 percent of men in top-25 ranked universities report that they are registered to vote, compared to 86 percent of women in those institutions. More women enroll in higher education than men, so there are more female voters in total across universities, but the trend toward higher male participation, moving decidedly rightward, is clear for the college population.

What does all this mean?

Men and women are experiencing college differently and politicizing one another. Men seem to be moving to the Right in reaction to what they perceive as "attacks" on their status from women, while women seem to be expressing ever greater frustration with what they interpret as habitual male behavior surrounding college athletics, party culture, and other traditional facets of campus life. College women, like many other American women, are also motivated by what they see as restrictions on their reproductive and other freedoms.

Looking a decade down the road, we may be facing a society that's polarized not only along ideological but gender lines, with the majority of women voting for Democrats while a majority of men vote Republican.

The good news is that a third of college men and women do not identify as Republicans or Democrats but as independents or unaffiliated, and numerous surveys have shown that many Gen Z students are ideologically up for grabs. This large number of moderates at most universities are more than swing voters; they are a potential alternative to the extremes that are seeping into a new generation.

Instead of trying to find some elusive balance of left and right-leaning voices on campus, the time has come to think systematically about what a political middle might look like at universities, and how to build it.

If universities ignore the gender gap and miss this opportunity to turn polarization around, we will not only see more partisanship but deeper divisions between young, educated women and men. That would be a major hindrance to future cooperation in our democracy. Universities should lean into the middle.

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College
and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in
Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author
and editor of eleven books on politics and foreign policy, most
recently: Civil War By Other Means: America's Long and UnfinishedFight for Democracy.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.