Study Finds Fraternity, Sorority Students More Likely to Be Conservative

December 5, 2012 - 4:37 PM

Swarthmore Sorority Returns

In this Sept. 24, 2012 photo, Swarthmore College student Maya Marzouk poses for a photo on the campus of Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore, Pa. Nearly 80 years after women at Swarthmore College voted to ban sororities because they were too exclusive, a group of female students will reinstate Greek life this spring after weathering months of polarizing debate on campus.(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(CNSNews.com) - A new study from the University of Iowa found that politically conservative students are more likely to join fraternities and sororities on college campuses.

According to study co-author Professor Michael Hevel, the high presence of conservative students in Greek life refutes the conventional wisdom that all college students are politically liberal.

“There is a perception that colleges and universities are particularly liberal spaces populated by particularly liberal people (both students and staff),” Hevel said in a statement to CNSNews.com.

“But this study reminds us that not everyone affiliated with colleges and universities, and certainly not all students, hold liberal political beliefs,” Hevel added.

“Fraternities and sororities may be one of the more formal and long-standing aspects of higher education in which conservative individuals on campus congregate. That is, this study suggests that colleges and universities are more politically complicated spaces than the general perception would have us believe,” he said.

On Thursday, Hevel – along with co-authors Dustin Weeden and Kira Pasquesi – presented the study entitled “The Conservative Corner of Liberal Academy? New Evidence of the Effects of Fraternity and Sorority Membership on Political Orientation and Social/Political Activism” at the Association for the Study of Higher Education conference in Las Vegas.

The research has yet to be submitted to an academic journal for review.

Hevel added that the biggest “take away” from the study is that on average, those who join fraternities and sororities are more conservative upon entering college, and tend to stay that way throughout their four years of education.

“While all students became more liberal over four years in college, fraternity and sorority members demonstrated less gains in liberalism, suggesting that fraternity/sorority membership buffers the liberalizing effect of higher education,” Hevel said.

Hevel made clear the study’s objective was not to bring about changes to student ideologies. Instead, he hopes the results will bring about “lively exchanges” between students.

“Maybe by recognizing (or remembering) that many fraternity and sorority members hold political beliefs that different from the campus norm, educators can encourage these students to help contribute to a lively exchange of ideas on campus, rather than everyone on campus, liberals and conservatives, sequestering themselves among like-minded people,” he said.

The study’s co-authors—who conducted their research between 2006 and 2010 – used a sample of 2,092 students who attended 17 different four-year colleges, both public and private.

Students were asked to provide information in three primary areas: their political orientation, level of social and political activism, and whether or not they were a member of a Greek organization.

An attempt to preserve the status quo on campus, increased peer influence and financial well-being are possible reasons given by the study’s co-authors to explain why fraternity and sorority students are more conservative.

The questions posed to the sample were focused on political ideology and did not examine voting patterns or past elections.

“Using quantitative analysis, the team discovered, that on average, fraternity and sorority members enter college with more conservative political views than their peers,” according to a Nov. 15th University of Iowa press release.

“And while their peers became more liberal over four years of college, Greeks remained more conservative. Additionally, fraternity men indicated they were less socially and politically active than college students overall,” the press release said.