Fall 2017 Articles, Politics, Religion, Social Issues

NC State students are (and are not) socially tolerant

Depending on the topic, NC State students are and are not socially tolerant. Generally, social tolerance among college students has been declining. This trend continues for NC State students, too. In a PackPoll conducted in November, 16% of Democrats and Independents would date someone who supports Donald Trump.

For Republicans and Independents, only 59% would date someone who supports Hillary Clinton. Even when it comes to friends, only 43% of Democrats and Independents have a close friend who supports Trump. However, among Republicans and Independents, 75% have a close friend who supports Clinton. Even with only Republicans, 70% have a Clinton-supporting friend.

This 32-point disparity among these two groups is most likely because college students tend to be more liberal, so there is a greater likelihood that someone who is Republican or Independent has a Democratic friend.

NC State students are far more tolerant of other religions. 90% of students would support the right of a Muslim person to speak against Christianity in a hypothetical situation, and 68% would support a Christian person to speak against Islam. However, 62% would find the speech against Muslims offensive, while 85% would find the speech against Christians offensive.

What is the reason for this difference? One factor could be that college students are becoming less and less religious, distancing themselves from their religious upbringings. Even in our poll, the vast majority of students identified as either atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular. As a result, students may sympathize more with a religion other than the one they were raised with. In contradiction to this argument, more people did find the speech against Christians to be offensive. Another possible explanation could be that students are more sympathetic to a religion that is constantly being demonized by some media outlets and our president than Christianity, the predominant faith in America. All in all, NC State students vary in their tolerance of different political opinions and religious views. These are both very decisive topics, as is evident in our poll.


You can see a copy of our topline report here.



Almost 700 students were asked to take this survey and 216 completed it.  However, we cannot report a margin of sampling error for this survey because our results come from on a non-probability sample.  Most of our surveys adhere to the theoretical principles of probability sampling, such as when every NCSU student has a non-zero and equal chance of being randomly invited to take a survey (and nearly all we contact respond to it).  Instead, only certain students were asked to take this survey about protesting.

Our results about social issues come from students who previously agreed to be sent our future surveys.  In short, they chose us, non-randomly, so we can’t know for sure if they “think like” most students.  If respondents are not selected according to probability theory, it isn’t possible to calculate traditional diagnostic statistics about a survey, such as the margin of sampling error.

Most industry professionals today, however, agree that the margin of sampling error is overrated for evaluating the validity of polling results; if only 20% (or less!) of students respond to an invitation to take a survey, even when they were contacted at random, the subsequent sample doesnconform to the assumptions of probability theory.  We could present advanced statistics about the likely representativeness of our sample, but the benefit of generating those stats is outweighed by their complicatedness.

Instead, we argue that in general we’ve learned that our panel of interested survey takers does a good job of mimicking a random sample of State students. Over the past two semesters, we’ve tested whether differences exists between results we obtain from the non-probability panel compared to a truly random draw.  So far, we don’t observe significant differences of opinions asked among students contacted the different methods.  Past results suggests that our results for students’ opinions about protesting are broadly representative of what most undergraduates at NCSU think about social issues.

Nevertheless, we might have overestimated State’s support for social issues.  More of our respondents call themselves “Democrat” than is probably true for all undergraduates.  Since political partisanship is a fluid attitude and not a fixed characteristic, like age, we can’t be certain about the “true” percentage of Democrats (or Republicans). Thus, without knowing more about the fixed traits of our protesting sample (we did not ask more questions about their demographics), nor being certain our sample is “too Democratic,” we do not attempt to weight/adjust our data to known properties about NCSU undergraduates.

For additional information about best practices for reporting on the precision of non-probability sampling, you can watch this debate and/or read this guidance for how to report on results from non-probability samples.

One Comment

  1. It is fair to say that democrats in this poll may prove to be less socially tolerant than republicans. Something to think about. Also, conservatives afe less likely to answer openly about their affiliations due to the unfair social ramifications they would face on a university campus. Thus why 2016 election polls all gave misleading predictions about which candidate was more likely to win.

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