Campus & Community

Religion, morality playing important roles in politics of college students, Harvard poll finds

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In potential 2008 presidential matchup, Clinton and McCain in dead heat

A new national poll by the Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics (IOP) finds that seven out of 10 college students in the United States believe that religion is somewhat or very important in their lives, but they are sharply divided – along party lines – over how strong a role religion should play in politics and government today.

More than half of the students agree that they are concerned about the moral direction of the country. While a majority believes hot-button issues such as abortion policy, gay marriage, and stem cell research are issues of morality, some say government response to Hurricane Katrina, education policy, and Iraq war policy are also questions of morality.

When asked whom they would support in a potential 2008 presidential matchup between U.S. senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain, students split at 40 percent each, with 20 percent saying they are unsure.

The poll also includes the IOP’s 11-question “Harvard Institute of Politics’ Political Personality Test,” which finds that America’s college students do not fit traditional ideological labels like liberal and conservative and that 40 percent are religious and secular centrists who incorporate religious views with their political attitudes and actions. (The test is available online at

“Religion is not only very important in the lives of college students today, but also religion and morality are critical to how students think about politics and form opinions on political issues,” said IOP Director Jeanne Shaheen. “The political parties and candidates should take note of the significant number of votes and key swing constituency that college students represent for the 2006 and 2008 elections.”