Elections, Fall 2015 Articles, Misc, Politics, Socialism

State Students “Feel the Bern”

535c185d62546.imageWill Ferrell feels it. The Red Hot Chili Peppers feel it. And now, NC State too is feeling the Bern.

Although Bernie Sanders is unlikely to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, the U.S. Senator from Vermont would perform quite well at NC State, according to our recent PackPoll. When asked how they would vote in a series of hypothetical matchups between the top four Republican candidates and the top two Democratic candidates, NC State student’s opinions were clear. Bernie Sanders came out ahead in all match ups against the likes of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio.

Clinton Fading

What is remarkable is that Sanders would best the four top Republican candidates (according to polling at this point in time), while Hillary Clinton would only manage to “win” against one of them, Trump. Of course, most State students aren’t decisive this far away from actually voting, but the strong showing of a socialist on this southern STEM oriented university is surprising.

Despite being the clear front-runner among Democrats nationally, Hillary Clinton struggled in our survey of students. She won a decisive victory against Donald Trump, but lost to Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, while losing soundly to Ben Carson. The only matchup in which the student opinion differed greatly from national polling was when asking respondents to choose between her and Donald Trump – there was a 10% increase in support for Hillary. Student opinion matched national results when asked to choose between her, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson within a 1.5% difference.

Remember, Clinton was once the plurality if not majority preference to be the party’s nominee on campus just last Spring, although, to be fair, Sanders wasn’t included yet because he hadn’t declared his candidacy.

Secret to Sanders’ Success?

Sanders swept the Republican competition, performing about 8% better on average than he does with the general population. His success at NCSU lies in his ability to draw voters from the Republican Party while retaining the Democratic vote. Among state students, Sanders gained as much as a 20% of his vote from Republicans, against Trump. His worst showing, against Carson, still left him with 10% of his vote coming from Republicans. Conversely, just 5% of Carson’s vote comes from Democrats. On average Sanders is able to “steal” 16% of the vote normally reserved for Republicans, representing a 11% net gain.

This can primarily be traced back to Sander’s popularity with Liberals. In every case, Bernie got a higher percentage of his votes from Liberals than his Republican opponent did from Conservatives. Sanders, though, sometimes struggled with so called “moderates.”

Since we asked students to rate their political ideology on two separate dimensions, economics and social issues, we were able to find out why Republicans were unusually willing to support someone running as a Democrat. The explanation is that many Republicans identify themselves as being social liberal, and political ideology on social issues appears to be more important than one’s ideology about economic issues. Fully 80% of Republicans say they are conservative about economic issues, but only half (52%) of say they are conservative on social issues. Overall, those who identify as socially liberal make up 45% of the vote, meaning that Bernie Sanders only needed to do well on the margins with conservatives and moderates to be successful.


These are the results for this semester’s “Big Poll,” conducted bi-annualy since 2010 (November 5-10, 2015). The survey was administered over the internet to a random sample of 4,500 NCSU undergraduates, generating a 24% response rate for completed surveys (and 26% for partially completed). Sampling error is +/-2.93% for completed interviews and questions asked of the full sample; it is higher for sub-groups and questions asked of only portions of the full sample.

In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in our sample because our measured demographics closely approximate the known student parameters for age, year in school, and gender. Weighting the data would be unlikely to change the reported results by more than 1-2% percentage points for any question results.

Click here to see the full set of results: Toplines Fall 2015 Big Poll

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