The new Princeton Review rankings state that George Mason has the “most conservative students” “based on student assessment of the political bent of the student body at large”.
My impression over the years has been that the student body at GMU is more or less evenly split between liberals and conservatives, which I’m pretty sure would make the student body much less conservative than at schools like Regent or BYU.
So I decided to do an informal, optional, and anonymous survey of the students in my Con Law I section, who represent about half of our 2L day class. Here are the results:
Q Which of these is closest to your political views?
1. Green 0
2. Very Liberal 5
3. Liberal 10
4. Moderately Liberal 9
5. Moderate 7
6. Moderately Conservative 11
7. Conservative 3
8. Very Conservative 4
9. Libertarian 6
10. Other 0
Note that there are more “very liberal” students than “very conservative” students, and way more “liberal” than “conservative students. And even if you put “libertarian” students into the conservative camp (unfairly, in my opinion), you still wind up with a 24-24 left-right tie.
Some students suggested to me that there might be some self-selection of liberal students into my section, and that their class year might be more liberal than average. Even if one or both of these things are true (and I have no way of measuring them), it’s unlikely that they have such a large effect on the results that they undermine the general point, that GMU students aren’t nearly as conservative as what Princeton Review would suggest, and indeed are reasonably well-balanced ideologically.
So why, if P.R. is accurate, do students perceive their colleagues as being so conservative? I can think of at least two plausible explanations. First, unlike the runner-up schools (Regent, BYU, Ave Maria, Samford), GMU is neither a religious school, nor is it located in a conservative part of the country. Rather, the school is in Arlington, a liberal county, and next to D.C., an even more liberal jurisdiction. Our students often come from liberal universities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. So compared to what one might expect from a secular law school in a liberal part of the world, the student body seems quite conservative. And indeed, there is no other school on P.R.’s top 10 list that is not either religious, located in a conservative region, or both.
Second, some (small) fraction of GMU students come here precisely because they prefer a non-overwhelmingly-left-wing political environment, which is what they would get at every one of the schools we primarily compete with for students. These students are disproportionately likely to speak up in class, and thus make the student body seem more conservative than it really is.