How College Makes Liberals (or Conservatives)


The author examines the role of affiliation networks in shaping the political identities of students in college, using panel survey data from a case study of a predominantly liberal institution, tracking students’ political identities and affiliation memberships throughout the course of college. Although there was some self-selection into politically homophilous student organizations and majors, the extent of political sorting was relatively low, which resulted in considerable political heterogeneity in the affiliation networks. During the course of college, students’ political identities shifted in both liberal and conservative directions. Results from hierarchical multinomial logistic regressions suggest that identity transitions were driven by both the political composition of peer networks and influences outside the educational institution, such as family and prior socialization. This research underscores the importance of considering network stratification and individual contexts for understanding heterogeneous influences of seemingly uniform institutional settings.