As the 2019-2020 school year begins this fall, millions of high schoolers and college students will be heading into an academic environment rife with politicization and heated classroom discussions. But, how do students truly feel about issues such as socialism, free speech, health care, and illegal immigration? Do these kids aged 13-22, known as Gen Z, feel comfortable sharing their true opinions? Do they even know the basic concepts of what they are discussing? To find out, Young America's Foundation, "the nation’s premier organization for inspiring students on high school and college campuses with conservative ideas," teamed up with Echelon Insights for a poll given exclusively to Townhall to gain a better understanding of America's youth.
When it comes to free speech in the classroom, students generally believe their teachers are receptive of open debate. According to the poll, which surveyed 2,004 Americans aged 13-22 nationwide, from June 11 - June 14, 2019, 74 percent of Gen Z'ers say they "feel like my teachers generally encourage students of a variety of points of view to participate in class discussions about government and economics."
However, nearly half of these same students, 46 percent, admit they "have stopped myself from sharing my ideas or opinions in class discussions." As for why these students refrained, it appears that peer pressure is the dominating factor as 50 percent said they held back their opinions because they "thought my classmates would judge me."
This poll also indicates that classroom conversation is hampered since some opinions are withheld. This means this self-censorship potentially prevents students from gaining a fuller, broader understanding of topics like socialism and capitalism. For example, The polling indicates that 80 percent of Gen Z have a favorable view of small business, 73 percent have a favorable view of entrepreneurs, and 61 percent have a favorable view of free markets. However, despite the majority of these students finding these aspects of the economy "favorable," just 40 percent have a favorable opinion of capitalism.
Furthermore, 40 percent of college-aged students had a positive view of socialism. 35 percent of all respondents said they viewed the economic system positively. Yet, when asked to define socialism, 10 percent of these students answered it simply meant "free stuff" and 27 percent said they were "don't know/unsure."
YAF spokesperson Spencer Brown told Townhall that this poll highlights why his organization is so necessary for high school and college campuses. In short, groups like YAF are needed to fill in educational gaps and truly explain conservative ideas and values.
"The current landscape of high school and college education identified in the poll, shows that Young America’s Foundation’s work is as important as ever as young people return to their classrooms and lecture halls for another school year," Brown said. "Today’s students are hungry for ideas and keyed into the issues of the day but are frequently denied venues for free and open dialogue.”
The poll also shows that very few friends discuss free market concepts with their peers. However, when they do discuss and learn more about issues like economic inequality, the conversation happens on websites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Sixty percent of respondents answered "social media" when asked, "Where have you recently seen, read, or heard about economic inequality in the United States?"
The poll also found that health care and immigration are the top two political issues Gen Z cares about. A key piece of the poll found that the more informed somebody was on socialism, the less likely it was they thought it would benefit the country.
The poll asked:
On a scale of 0 to 10, where a 0 means you think this would be extremely bad for the country and a 10 means you think this would be extremely good for the country, do you think some form of socialism would be good or bad for the United States?
At first, the initial average mean response was 4.18. When given more information, that average mean decreased to 3.84. This change shows the critical impact that quality conversation and information about the free market and socialism can have on campus.
As for what the main take away from this poll, Brown said, "America’s educational institutions are failing to provide the next generation with venues where the free and open exchange of ideas can flourish.
"This is where bold Young Americans for Freedom activists who work to organize Young America’s Foundation’s iconic campus activism projects and host leading conservatives through YAF’s campus lecture program are filling a significant gap in education," Brown added.