Denisonians Are Divided over Economics, Politics, and the US Itself

By Max Dehon

Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders offer unique critiques of the United States from their ends of the political spectrum. President Trump emboldens the idea of capitalism at the core of the United States, whereas Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist. How do Denison students feel about these economic models and how do they feel about the current climate of the United States?

To measure how the Denison student body felt about these topics and candidates, 127 asked students to rate a variety of individuals and groups on a scale of 0-100, with 0 being the most negative and 100 being the most positive. Among the options listed were President Trump, Bernie Sanders, socialism, capitalism, and the United States.

After looking through the data surrounding the two candidates and their ideologies, the results were very interesting. Unsurprisingly, Denison students, on average, gave President Trump a rating of about 19. However, they gave capitalism an average rating of about 51. Whereas Denison students gave Bernie Sanders an average rating of about 53, they rated socialism a 43. This is noteworthy as it tells us that favorability towards individuals is not limited to their economic beliefs or political platforms. Denison students, on average, have a higher favorability towards capitalism yet they do not necessarily favor President Trump by any means. In contrast, Denison students favor Bernie Sanders more than they do his ideology, socialism.

Still, for both candidates, the figure below shows that the higher their favorability towards their political ideology, the more favorable they were rated. In all, even when students do not care for socialism, they like Sanders – it only takes a cool score of 25 toward socialism before Sanders garners favorable views. Whereas they do not view Trump favorably until very high levels of warmth toward capitalism (~90) are reached.

The 2016 and 2020 campaigns hosted perhaps the most sustained critique of the status quo from a major party in the United States since perhaps the Progressive Era over 100 years ago. Can we find this in our data? Does economic ideology and candidate support affect how Denison students view the United States?

Overall, Denison students gave a favorability rating of about 65 towards the United States. As seen in the figure below, it is clear that the students who indicated that they approved of the way President Trump was handling his job had a much higher level of favorability towards the United States, at about 86. And unsurprisingly, students who disapproved of Trump also had a much lower favorability towards the United States, at just above 60.

As we would expect, there were considerable differences among the Democratic hopefuls in their level of tension with the status quo in the US. Supporters of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary gave an average rating of about 50 towards the United States. Interestingly, this was the lowest score among the original 2020 Democratic Presidential primary candidates, followed closely by progressive Warren supporters (57). Supporters of the other candidates had much warmer feelings toward the US, with Biden supporters topping out at over 80 (equivalent to the average score from those who “are not a Democrat”). Of course, this is essentially how the Democratic nominating process has played out with contrasting visions for the US and Sanders supporters apparently having a difficult time shifting their support to Biden.

For Denison students, it is clear that their political preferences are not in lockstep with their ideological beliefs. However, when looking at how the student body feels about the United States, the data tells a different story. With the United States becoming more and more polarized and the 2020 Presidential election looming, it will be interesting to revisit this topic next Spring. It will be certain that many Democratic Socialist ideologies such as Medicare for All and Universal Basic Income will be a mainstay in the upcoming debates (if they happen) and will be contrasted by a candidate who embodies capitalism at his core. Will Denison become even more polarized after the Fall of 2020?

Max Dehon is a senior Political Science Major from Kansas City and is a now retired member of the Big Red Baseball team. After finishing this semester on Google Meet, he will be attending Law School this fall.

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