Friday, 18 September 2015

The social attitudes of my students

Every autumn semester I run a gigantic second year module called SPCU913 Understanding Social Policy. In the first lecture I get them to answer a selection of questions from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. In the second lecture I then compare the class responses to the Scottish data. I'm a bit naughty in that I remove the "don't know" or "neither" categories for my students to force them to answer.

I thought I'd share the data here in these slides. It's always very interesting. My students, by their nature, are incredibly different from the rest of Scotland's population - on average much younger, more affluent and more educated. Yet their social attitudes are incredibly similar. Just like Scotland, they're actually very centrist in their political views - if I were a stats whizz I'd calculate some confidence intervals around the questions on benefits as it does seem my students are marginally more left-wing than the rest of Scotland. But, as I've commented on before, it's remarkable for the political discourse, how right-of-centre some political views are in Scotland, and so are my students. The vast majority of people in Scotland think most benefits are claimed falsely, as do the majority of my students. 

The real divergences really only emerge on touchstone issues, like university tuition fees. For a policy that is so totemic of progressive politics in Scotland, free university tuition has remarkably low support (26% in 2013). Yet among my students, unsurprisingly, 70% are in favour of free university tuition. However, I wonder if this is down to the way the question is asked. I wonder which option would be most popular out of these?

  • Pay fees from a loan and receive a means-tested grant of up to £5,000 a year
  • Pay no fees but receive all your living costs as a loan of up to £9,000 a year
I asked my students these questions on the 18 September last year (2014) and yesterday (17 September) 2015. What I think is most striking is the data on party affiliation. On the day of voting in the Independence Referendum last year support for the SNP among my students was very low, just 26% compared to 40% support for Labour. Yet now the stats have more than reversed, with 59% supporting the SNP and only 19% of Labour. Very clearly, among this demographic, the SNP and the Yes campaign lost the referendum, but in the year since, have won the political argument. 

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