The Bells recently conducted a survey on the 2008 presidential election. A total of 670 students and 148 faculty and staff indicated which candidate they would choose for president. They also rated which national issues were most important and gave their views on a series of questions regarding religion in presidential campaigns.
According to the survey, students’ choice for president, most important issues and beliefs on religion in campaigns were nearly identical to those of faculty and staff.
Students as well as faculty and staff expressed overwhelming support for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, favoring him over Democratic candidate Barack Obama by nearly 30 percentage points among students and 40 points among faculty and staff.
Nationally, most polls show Obama with a slim to moderate lead over McCain. The discrepancy between those numbers and the campus survey could reflect UMHB’s location in a particularly conservative area of Texas, its Baptist affiliation, and a sizeable number of students in the military or with military spouses, groups that tend to vote Republican.
Dr. David Chrisman, associate professor and chair of history and political science, speculates the high percentage of McCain supporters among the faculty and staff is related to what they teach.
“It’s not surprising due to the size of the business and nursing faculties, which probably have more McCain supporters,” Chrisman said. “Our faculty is probably not as liberal as you might see at other schools.”
The economy dominated the issues section of the survey, with more than 64% of students and 82% of faculty and staff selecting it as important to them. This possibly indicates concern over the well-publicized financial meltdown sweeping the credit industry and the resultant rise in unemployment.
Chrisman attributes higher economic anxiety among faculty and staff than students to the fact that many students are unemployed and attending school with their parents’ money.
“It doesn’t hit home for students as much as faculty. They’re not going to feel the effects until it hits their parents.”
Chrisman saw the fact that a majority of students listed the economy among their primary concerns as a positive development for normally apolitical college students.
“We try to get students interested in issues beyond the culture wars. This economy will affect us all.”
The war in Iraq ranked second, reflecting the university’s proximity to Fort Hood in Killeen and concern over the continued presence of more than 150,000 American soldiers stationed in Iraq. Roughly 45% of faculty and staff and 50% of students marked the issue as important.
Health care came in third, with close to a third of all respondents selecting it as important, reflecting worry over the rising price of health insurance.
College funding was not a primary concern for students, with only 24% rating it as an important issue.
Chrisman believes the economy has overshadowed college funding.
“It’s an important issue for all of us, but it’s being trumped by the economy.”
Issues like abortion and religion, which were among the most important to those who answered The Bells’ 2004 election survey, have retreated far behind bread-and-butter concerns like the economy and health care.
Conservative religious groups, which backed President Bush heavily during his 2004 re-election campaign and helped mobilize millions of Republican voters, have been notably less enthusiastic about John McCain.
As a result, their strong anti-abortion message has not integrated into McCain’s campaign as it did Bush’s four years ago. In addition, McCain does not openly discuss his faith as President Bush did and has shied away from religious issues on the campaign trail.
This year’s survey asked a series of questions regarding religion in political campaigns. Students as well as faculty and staff seem comfortable with, and even prefer, a prominent role for religion in politics. The vast majority of both groups (75% of students and 85% of faculty and staff) said it was appropriate for political candidates to talk about their religious beliefs as part of their political campaigns, and more than 70% said it was “very” or “somewhat important” for candidates to have strong religious beliefs.
Conversely, most respondents (53% of students and 60% of faculty and staff) did not approve of religious leaders urging people to vote for or against particular political candidates. This indicates that while those at UMHB like for candidates to be religious and talk about it, they don’t want pastors telling them which politicians to vote for.