The recently receding Republican party may one day receive “no votes at all” from Cornellians, according to a study conducted by Prof. Richard Bensel, government.
During a media cycle in which many assertions declared as facts have proved patently false, Bensel — who has analyzed patterns in Cornell voting patterns since 1868 — asserts that a deluge of deniable information has pushed elite universities dramatically leftward.
Evolving Political Climate
In a study entitled, “Can Madison’s Constitution Survive our Polarized Politics?” Bensel argues that the degeneration of the public sphere has made rational debate more difficult. He highlights the repercussions of a changing partisan dialogue by analyzing a score of factors.
The swath of Bensel’s conclusions are substantiated by his data on Cornell’s voting history. The research stretches from the post-Civil War milieu of 1868 — during a calm that saw an almost even split between the major two parties — to more recent history, as students voted en masse for the Democratic Party for the past 44 years.
Throughout the 20th century, Cornell underwent steady changes, transforming from a largely Republican to generally Democratic campus, according to Bensel’s study. The 1964 Goldwater-Johnson election acted as a political turning point in this trend.
Prof. Emeritus Isaac Kramnick, government, said the subsequent political flip was primarily a means of protest: from the 1960s to the 1980s, an aversion to global conflict led students to empathize with the Democratic party.
“The Cornell community was forever politicized during the turmoil that swept through universities in the 1960s,” Kramnick said. “Cornell was a major site for campus anti-Vietnam war protest and the student body has remained solidly center-left in succeeding decades.”
In his study, Bensel found that in recent years, academia has begun to conflate progressivism with scientific evidence, taking positions on social issues that are then presented as facts. At the same time, media outlets have “sensationalized” content to bolster ratings, also moving away from unbiased truth.
This degradation of facts has placed placed media outlets and universities at odds, and the resulting leftward shift of colleges has served to repel Republicans, who find university campuses increasingly hostile environments.
“The current issue is that universities are avidly advocating political positions that have little confirmable evidence, which undercuts their legitimacy as ‘the keeper of reason’ in the public sphere,” he said. “This, along with the breakup of facts-based national media, has converged into a push for news sources with hostile relations towards elite universities.”
Bensel concluded that this contentious relationship triggers a “rejection of facts,” manifesting in controversial claims about climate change and social science, confusing an already angst-filled electorate.
“[This lack of public confidence] directly conflicts with the hard-lined social causes universities advocate for,” he said. “This dynamic has become self-sustaining, and a real problem.”
His data shows that the Republican party’s presence on campus has been steadily decreasing — in the last 20 years, the total number of votes for Republican candidates equaled the number of votes President Barack Obama received in 2012. One day, Benzel predicted, Republicans “may receive no votes at all” at elite universities.
Bensel’s findings surprised many students, who said they assumed Cornell had been historically liberal. Thomas Hartman ’19, who identified as a Republican, lamented how isolated college students have become from the rest of the country.
“In the landslide 1984 election where Reagan took nearly every state, it seems almost preternatural that Cornell students still voted overwhelmingly against him, while in 2012, after a slow recovery and social stagnation, Obama still hit 85 percent,” he said. “It is definitely strange and seems erroneous.”
Hartman proposed that this pattern reflects a millennial movement left, as young voters move to challenge authority and status quo political positions.
“Honestly, at the end of the day, it’s probably just a millennial norm to vote progressive, and push boundaries,” Hartman said.
With revanchism out of the question, many Republicans at Cornell aim to restore balance between the two political parties and encourage a wider range of political opinions on campus, according to Cornell Republican Chair Olivia Corn ‘19.
“There are 11 academic departments, including the government department, which are generally censorious to conservatives, and replete with liberal professors,” Corn said. “How are we supposed to create a diversity of thought if our current milieu is an echo chamber?”
Conceding that there is an extremely high threshold for a return to political balance at Cornell, Bensel said “only time can tell” if voting patterns will continue to drift leftward, or if a conservative coalition could one day return to prominence on campus.