The Political Gap: Conservatives feel outnumbered, marginalized

Art by Emylee Lucas/The Et Cetera

The Et Cetera examined the partisan culture on campus. We talked to people about their beliefs, the current ideological walls and the role that media plays.

Art by Emylee Lucas/The Et Cetera
By JAMES HARTLEY
@JamesHartleyETC

Nicholas Singleton walks into his Texas government class, taking his seat at the long table that early-arriving classmates put together. He sets his bag down on the table and, in his low, soft voice, asks how everyone is doing before pulling his textbook out of his backpack.

Singleton, an African-American Republican, is one of the few conservatives in his government class. As the discussion starts up, he finds he is one of the only conservative voices in the room.

Singleton hasn’t found many conservatives on campus and has yet to find another African-American student who’s Republican.

He said that liberals have tried to use identity politics to change his views.

“I’ve heard ‘Republicans are racists because they favor the prosperous,’ ” Singleton said. “Another one I’ve heard is ‘You’re African-American so you should vote Democrat because they’re in favor of the poor.’ ”

Singleton’s ideology is also unique at home.

“I didn’t adopt my parents’ political identity,” Singleton said. “I’m a Republican, but my mom’s a Democrat. We have opposing views, especially about gun control and the health of the economy.”

Singleton often feels out of place around other students. His views are not typically well accepted, and sometimes he’s been asked to not express them.

“I tried hanging out with a girl and her friends, and she stopped me to say that I really need to be careful what I say,” Singleton said. “All her friends are Democrats, and they’re disgusted by Donald Trump.”

A 2015 national survey of college freshman conducted by the University of California Los Angeles found that 33.5 percent self-identify as either “liberal” or “far left,” a 1.8 percent increase over 2014 freshmen.

The survey found that 21.6 percent of freshmen identified as “conservative” or “far right,” only 0.6 percent higher than 2014.

According to the Pew Research Center, Trump received only 8 percent of the African-American vote. Singleton said he doesn’t understand the unquestioning support of Democrats by African-Americans.

“I’ve asked African-Americans before what the Democratic Party has ever done for the African-American community,” Singleton said. “They usually hesitate and can’t provide me with any answer.”

Most conservatives interviewed for this story said they feel outnumbered at Eastfield, and some wouldn’t talk to The Et Cetera for fear of retribution from peers or professors. Those who were interviewed said they feel liberals don’t understand them, and some reject them altogether.

Psychology major Josh Nelson, vice president of Phi Theta Kappa, said he’s found liberals on campus with whom he can have respectful conversations, but most of the time, his opinion is rejected.

He said that while friends like Tristan Macklin, a mechanical engineering major and fellow vice president in PTK, accept him and tolerate his views, most people don’t.

“About 70 percent of the time I get that staunch, ‘How dare you believe that,’ reaction,” he said.

Kathy Bayne, a sign language interpreter at Eastfield who grew up in a liberal household, said that there is a larger conservative population on campus than there appears to be. They are just quieter about their political views than liberals.

Sam Farley, an undecided major who identifies as libertarian-conservative, feels he is an outsider among Eastfield students.

Farley grew up in a Jewish-American, conservative household. He said he isn’t more liberal than his parents, just more Libertarian. Though his parents homeschooled him, they encouraged him to research and form his own opinions.

He said he feels Eastfield is a liberal campus and that most students and professors lean left.

“When I first got here, I was afraid to even open my mouth,” Farley said. “With culture and media, I think a lot of conservatives feel like they’re walking into the lion’s den.”

Economics professor Bob Felder, who has taught here since the campus opened in 1970, said he doesn’t discuss his political views at work to avoid conflict with his co-workers. He said he feels comfortable on campus as a professor but not as a conservative.

“As long as I keep quiet, I’m OK,” he said.

Farley believes that virtue signaling, where a person gets called a racist, sexist, homophobe, Islamaphobe, or other names because of their beliefs, is poisonous to discourse.

Farley said he has been called a Nazi, which was ironic and offensive given his Jewish heritage.

“If someone were to call me a Nazi simply for holding a conservative position, even not knowing I was a Jew, that would completely shut it down,” he said. “How would we even begin to have a conversation? I think we need to be very careful and know that the words you use to describe what you are seeing, words like ‘white supremacy’ and ‘white nationalism’ and ‘nationalism.’ Yes, these beliefs still exist. Yes, people still hold these views, but they are not conservatives. Not by an inch, or a mile, are they conservatives.”

Nelson has experienced virtue signaling for his political beliefs and the color of his skin. He’s been told many times that his views are irrelevant due to “white privilege.”

“Corner after corner, I get shut down because I’m a white man,” Nelson said. “Most of the time, they don’t even know my beliefs.”

Felder believes many liberals today feel disdain for conservative views.

“I think Hillary Clinton’s comment encased it,” Felder said. “A bunch of deplorables. That’s how liberals see conservatives: They’re deplorable.”

Bayne laughed when asked if she believes liberals have any interest in understanding the point of view conservatives hold.

She believes group thinking doesn’t allow room for liberals to understand the conservative ideas of individualism and leads them to care more about select demographics than individuals.

The conservatives interviewed said the news stories published, the rhetoric and word choices used in stories and the way certain issues are reported create a bias, usually in favor of liberals.

Farley believes the media has a major influence on the political identity of Americans.

“I think the news media contribute at least to the image that it is mainstream to be liberal,” Farley said.

Farley gets his news from the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic and National Public Radio.

“I don’t think I can recall any interview from any major news source that really hounded President Obama in eight years,” Farley said. “Nobody really asked him the super tough questions that I can think of. I can’t recall a time when the media went after the president. Compare that to now with Donald Trump. Every day we have some breakthrough about what he’s saying or what someone in his cabinet is saying.”

Farley tries to find more moderate news sources and opposing views

“I’ve tried to get away from just news sources on the right,” Farley said. “I think as a conservative in my generation, I am constantly having to guard against party bias.”

Bayne doesn’t mind focusing on mainly conservative news sources.

She consumes most of her news online from sources like News Max and other conservative media. She said most mainstream news media has an agenda of discrediting conservatives.

Farley said he tries to get a balanced dose of views, but he does watch conservative commentators like Steven Crowder on YouTube.

Farley believes many conservatives, especially young conservatives, are going to non-traditional conservative media like Crowder because of the more casual atmosphere and more libertarian way of thinking.

“Crowder is very sociable, especially as a young person and a conservative,” Farley said. “I can go to his website and get his talking points and his ideas and it connects with me as a young person from this generation.”

Farley believes any hope for those with different political beliefs to understand each other and get along requires respect.

“I think that the way we combat political correctness is to hold ourselves, as conservatives, to a standards and to say, ‘If we expect them to stop calling us Nazis, we need to stop calling them snowflakes,’ ” Farley said.

[READ NEXT: The Political Gap: Liberal students, faculty feel campus is open, accepting to political discussion]

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