The Divide: Religiosity helps shape UK students’ political views, and not in a good way

Patrick Brennan, Assistant Opinions Editor

Patrick Brennan

Many young Americans, UK students included, are turning away from religion. 

According to a recent survey of UK students, Kentucky’s next generation is made up of more people who do not affiliate with a religion than the last generation. Also, this rising demographic has different interests that could shape a new and improved political climate.

The Kentucky Kernel conducted a campus-wide poll from Feb. 24 to Mar. 2 of 894 UK undergraduates. The respondents were asked about religious affiliation and “the three most important issues in this election,” among other political questions.

Most prominently, the results show that students at UK are no exception to the national trend of decreasing religiosity. About 30 percent of respondents said they have no religion or left the field blank.

A Gallup poll from 2015 found that Kentucky is generally more religious — it ranks in the top 10 states for “very religious” respondents. And the Gallup poll revealed that 23 percent of all Kentucky adults are unaffiliated.

On the issues, religion divided students over climate change and national security.

Nonreligious students were about twice as likely to say climate change is among the three most important issues. 

This could be that nonreligious students are more likely to take science as gospel and accept the truth of climate change. But the survey only asked about the importance of climate change.

Religious students, on the other hand, supported national security at a much higher rate than the nonreligious.

Political science professor Stephen Voss said he thinks national security was picked in place of immigration.

“Immigration used to be about economics and culture — it wa.s not about national security,” Voss said. “I really doubt this is military policy.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump propelled immigration to the forefront of issues in this election, saying he will get the Mexican government to build a wall across the border. Trump also emphasized attacks from refugees and Muslims, which he would prevent by isolationism.

Many religious students need to realize there were only seven terrorist attacks in the US during the first seven years of Obama’s presidency. This raises the question of why almost every religious Trump supporter, which was 85 percent of his total support, said that national security is a top issue.

Issues that nonreligious students said were important — climate change, civil rights and cost of education — are much more realistic and pressing.

UK students have a variety of political problems to face as they graduate. While there might be questions about truth or life satisfaction related to the trend of irreligiosity, at least they will lead the way on important issues.

Patrick Brennan is the assistant opinions editor of the Kentucky Kernel.

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