Polls and Protests

Author's Note: This article summarizes a section by S. M. Lipset in "They Would Rather Be Left," by S. M. Lipset and Gerald Schaflander, to be published next fall by Little, Brown.

THE wave of student protest which emerged in the late 1960s has often been called a "youth revolt." Actually, however, the increasing opposition of American college students to the Vietnam war and the concomitant growth in radical-left sentiments among them have not involved the total young adult age group. The idealism of much of non-college youth at that time was in fact reflected in a show of highly patriotic feeling, support for the war and even in a disproportionate backing for George Wallace's 1968 presidential candidacy. Furthermore, opinion polls dealing with the relationship of age to views on the Vietnam war have consistently shown that persons over 50 have been more numerous and more consistent in their opposition to the war than have all other groups. As a 1970 report from the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan put it, "this 'generation gap' that one would have expected, wherein the young oppose the war and the old support it, simply failed to appear."

However, a "gap" does exist. But it is between persons on and off campus rather than between the younger and the older. Faculty members, for example, who are as a rule much more opposed than students to militant activism and campus politicization, are as a group fairly close to their students on substantive issues such as Vietnam, civil rights and domestic social policy. Both tend to espouse as their dominant political ideology what might be described as Kennedy-McCarthy liberalism and the program of the left-liberal antiwar wing of the Democratic Party. The non-college population, on the other hand, has over the last five years gradually moved in a conservative direction, until by 1970, 52 percent described themselves as conservative, as against 34 percent who thought of themselves as liberals.

II

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