Economy, Politics, Spring 2013 Articles

Trends in students’ political beliefs

Obama’s ApprovalNo Opinion

The spring 2013 Pack Poll measured students’ approval of the president for the sixth continuous semester, all of which Obama has been in office. This time, however, we also experimented with estimating how much Obama’s approval rating was affected by the inclusion/exclusion of a “no opinion” answer option. It matters a lot.

When students were asked whether they approve or disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job as president, and students were not offered a “no opinion” answer option, a majority (55%) said that they approved. On the other hand, if students could choose “no opinion,” the plurality disapproved of the way Obama is handling his job as president. Now, 46% of respondents disapproved, while just 41% approved (13% said that they had no opinion).


In previous semesters that Obama’s approval rating has been measured, students were more often given a “no opinion” option, and those results were similar to this semester’s.  That is, when students in past semesters were allowed to say, “no opinion,” a majority of respondents disapproved of Obama’s performance. In the Fall 2012 semester, however, when students were forced to choose, half approved of the president’s handling his job and half disapproved. This split indicates that the “no opinion” option significantly impact on responses; when students are prodded to pick a choice, they will more likely approve of Obama when they truly have no opinion.

Without No Opinion

 Direction of country and N.C. State

Also for the sixth semester in a row, students were asked whether they thought things in our country are headed in the wrong or right direction. This semester—as in the previous semesters—a majority (57%) of students said that the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction.

When compared to national data, the majority of adults in the U.S. also say that the country is headed in the wrong direction. The website “Pollster” takes an average of the results of the most common pollsters. It is clear that in the past three years, a greater percent of people say that the country is heading in the wrong direction. In 2012, Pollster estimated that the majority (60%) thought the country is headed in the wrong direction, while about 30% thought it was the right direction. Around the fall of 2011 there was a bump in the “wrong direction” percent; it goes up to as high as 74%, while the “right direction decreases to as low as 17%. In 2010, there is a steady increase in the “wrong direction” percent; however, overall the percentages stay around 60 “wrong direction,” as in 2012.

Ultimately, when looking at the national numbers, N.C. State’s results look very similar. It appears that a slightly greater percent, nationally, say they the country is headed in the wrong direction (

However, when asked whether N.C. State was generally headed in the right or wrong direction, most students had a positive perspective. Indeed, just 15% said the university was headed in the wrong direction. While most say the direction of NCSU is going in the right direction, this percentage is actually lower than we obtained in spring of 2012 (92% said “right direction”). It is, though, consistent with our polling in 2011, which found just 15% thought State was heading in the wrong direction.


Students were also asked what they thought about the condition of the nation’s economy over the past year. The plurality (42%) said that the economy had stayed the same. Of the reminder, slightly more (34%) said that the condition of the economy had improved rather than worsened (24%). In 2010, when we last asked this question, 39% thought the nation’s economy was improved, while 35% said it had gotten worse and 26% thought it has stayed the same.

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