Democratic Students Are Never Satisfied

At Sarah Lawrence College, protesting about various perceived injustices is something of a campus pastime. When I discuss these demonstrations with my students, I warn them that the progressives behind them will never be satisfied, as their goals are constantly shifting and are often unclear. Leftists frequently promote narratives of harm and victimization and rarely work toward consensus. Many scholars have found that liberals are seldom content and are constantly disappointed—many are simply incapable of feeling satisfied.

The Left’s characteristic displeasure is rampant on our nation’s college and university campuses. A recent nationally representative survey by College Pulse of over 2,000 students offers new proof that liberals on campus are indeed less happy than their conservative counterparts. The data reveal that during these trying pandemic months, conservative, Republican students reported mental struggles at notably lower levels than their liberal, Democratic peers. Liberal students were also far more likely than conservatives to claim that their respective schools—institutions dominated by progressive faculty and administrators— did not understand them, suggesting that liberals may never be satisfied.

For instance, over the course of the pandemic, mental health understandably declined among many students. When asked if they personally struggled with anxiety and/or depression over the past four months, two-thirds (68 percent) of students reported that they faced either a great deal or a fair amount of struggle. Such a high number is obviously unfortunate, but the figure climbs to nearly three-quarters (73 percent) for strong and weak Democrats. The rate is much lower for strong and weak Republicans, at 56 percent.

Similarly, Democratic students were more likely to say that they struggle to fit in on campus. Four in 10 (42 percent) students reported that over the past four months, they struggled a fair amount or a great deal to fit in at their school. Even more (45 percent) Democratic students responded that they had troubled fitting in, while only 37 percent of Republicans reported feeling the same way. These numbers stand out given the legions of administrators hired to promote countless initiatives aimed at inclusion, tolerance, identity, and health, as well as professional, academic, and interpersonal development. Even more noteworthy is the fact that these administrators fixate on left-leaning issues such as social justice and equity, while in the classroom, faculty are overwhelmingly left of center. Nevertheless, liberal Democratic students are still appreciably more likely than Republican students to maintain that they are the ones who do not fit in on campus.

[Related: “Dear Outraged College Student”]

Moreover, the survey data show that Democratic students are more likely to feel ignored by their respective schools. 55 percent of Republican students believe that their schools are making an effort to understand their current experiences and challenges, compared to a lower 50 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Independents and leaners. While these numbers should be higher across the board, Democratic students are once again unhappier than their Republican peers, despite the unequivocal liberal leanings of the nation’s institutions of higher education.

Finally, while conservative students often find themselves at odds with left-leaning administrators and liberal students, they nevertheless report feeling “seen” by their school administrators at a markedly higher rate than their liberal counterparts. When asked if their institution’s administrators (president, provost, deans, etc.) “see” them and understand their personal challenges (due to race, gender identity, socioeconomic class, childhood experiences, etc.), 43 percent of all students say that they feel seen. 52 percent of conservative students feel seen—too low, but well above average. In contrast, just 38 percent of liberal students feel seen. This number is, again, too low, but it suggests that there is a real and persistent sense of dislocation among Democratic students.

Despite large numbers of liberal faculty, staff, and students and numerous student support centers, there is now new evidence that today’s Democrats are angry and bewildered. Democratic students report that they feel both unheard and disconnected from their own schools at much higher rates than their Republican counterparts, while these very schools have bent over backward to coddle these students, increase representation and inclusion, and promote a liberal agenda. Perhaps it is time for Democratic students to stop finding everything and everyone disagreeable. Instead, they ought to recognize that being a member of a community involves finding common bonds and values, and that discomfort and disagreement are fundamental parts of a healthy civic sphere. Colleges and universities could help change this Democratic culture of negativity by teach the virtues of viewpoint diversity, pluralism, compromise, and tradeoffs, but that may be wishful thinking.


Image: Laura Nyhuis, Public Domain

Samuel J. Abrams

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

10 thoughts on “Democratic Students Are Never Satisfied

  1. 1. The proponents of “progressive” and “woke” ideas do not consider acceptance and recognition as being adequate. They want VALIDATION!!!!!!. Validation removes doubt, insecurity, guilt and questions. Therefore, opposing ideas and attitudes are, by definition, wrong and not subject to discussion but are definitely and vehemently subject to censure and discipline.

    2. It seems few high school graduates have neither been prepared for adult duties and responsibilities nor been told they are empowered to make decisions that affect their life and future. (They have also never been taught that not making a decision is equivalent to making a decision of a different sort.) Social promotion, participation awards, subjective “standards”, suggestions in lieu of orders, and the constant declarations of “Good Job!” have prevented lessons in how to cope with frustration, disappointment, and loss. In the before times children learned to lose in small ways that were not grossly expensive — neither emotionally nor financially. By deferring adulthood and the vesting of responsibility until real world expectations make those lessons very expensive society has allowed a lot of oblivious, distracted people to be built up for a big let-down. Some find it shocking that workplaces are full of absolutes, orders, deadlines, and penalties for failure.

  2. I wonder how much of this different is mediated or moderated by ethnicity and racial differences that can occur differentially between conservative and liberal groups.

  3. You have two young children and two moms and in the beginning, both children and moms behave in the same way. A child comes into the kitchen where mom is starting to prepare dinner.
    The child says, “Can I have some candy?”
    And mom responds, “You know the rule, no candy before dinner.”
    “But I want some candy”
    “You’ll have to wait ’til after dinner.”
    “But I want candy, NOW!”
    “I understand you want candy. I don’t want candy to interfere with eating your dinner.”
    “I want candy! You’re a bad mother! You’re not my mother, I HATE you!”
    And here the mother’s behaviors move in different directions.
    Mom number one’s fear of not being liked gets tweaked, generating the reply, “Well, I suppose some candy would be OK.”
    Child number one has transitory feelings of being thrilled and powerful. He got what he wanted. However, he will not be able to trust mom and what she says, now and in the future. She betrayed herself, the rule and the child. He will begin to become somewhat aware of and frightened by his power to manipulate mom. This power is very unsettling as it’s in direct conflict with knowing he needs mom to do her best to take care of him. Over time, these inner conflicts will develop into destructive insecurities. The manipulative behavior is likely to continue, even though it is not to his benefit. Power is seductive.
    If he can’t trust mom, who can he trust? For the child, this question is beyond his ability to either clarify or answer. With his inability to resolve this, and his mother’s inability to represent clear limits, he misses out on working through an important developmental task, becoming mired in not knowing how to establish boundaries for himself and others.
    When child number two says, “I want candy. You’re a bad mother. You’re not my mother, I hate you!”
    Mom number two is likewise fearful her child won’t like her, but chooses to support the boundary and replies, “I may not be the mother you want and I may not be a very good mother, but I am the mother you have. Even though you are angry and hate me, I love you. I think eating candy before dinner is not a good idea. So, you may not have candy now.”
    Child number two is disappointed and angry at mom because he didn’t get what he wanted. At the same time, he unconsciously understands mom means what she says. From this interaction and future interactions like it, he will develop a sense of safety and trust in their relationship. In these repeated interactions, he will learn how to set boundaries for himself and others, which in turn will develop his self-esteem.
    From here it should be easy to link up which mom/child behavior dyad will eventually produce the “constantly disappointed” and “simply incapable of feeling satisfied” students.

  4. How much of this comes from the celebration of victimhood? It appears that status comes from complaints of bias, “violence” (which can sometimes be “silence”) and martyrdom.

    The greater the grievance, the more attention one receives provided the victim is considered marginalized. No wonder few left-leaning students are unhappy. Struggle is status and appears to encourage more struggle stories.

    Hoaxes provide an excellent proof point. Haven’t heard too many instances of the right wing student falsely claiming bias against them. I have heard and read of students manufacturing racists incidents to garner sympathy or excuse their own bad behavior.

    Here’s one example that was quickly swept under the rug once video was released showing the victims were instead the victimizers.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/02/nyregion/racism-charges-in-bus-incident-and-their-unraveling-upset-u-of-albany.html

  5. Liberals are also more likely to relate to a form of secular humanism and the hope that a more perfect utopia can be created on Earth without the power of God’s unifying Holy Spirit. Self-righteousness, virtue signaling and bitterness follow naturally as their souls cry out, “My will be done” rather than “Thy will be done”. While they recognize that something is wrong with the world yet refuse to believe that rejection of God is the root of the problem, they have no one else to blame than other humans and no hope for the New Heavens and New Earth promised in Revelation 21.

    This is not to ignore the good works that every Christian is called to do (see Ephesians 2:10) as an answer to the Lord’s prayer “Thy will be on Earth as it is in Heaven”. But having the sure hope of sins forgiven and God’s unconditional love revealed in Jesus is the firm foundation for life that too many Liberals (and Conservatives, unfortunately) lack. Let us all be more liberal in love: especially for our “enemies”.

    1. It would behoove you to accept that not all people subscribe to Christianity. There are good people of all faiths, as well as those who do not observe any faith.

  6. First, they are leftists, not liberals.

    Second, conservative students are tougher. They have long had to be, they endured 13 years of leftist indoctrination.

    And third, they’re not answering the same questions — where the leftist student seeks affirmation, the conservative student merely seeks tolerance.

    Increasingly there is a larger divide: where the leftist expects the college experience to be fun, the conservative considers it something to be endured toward a future goal.

    That is why I believe higher ed will implode. Once an alternative route to employment arises, they will be gone.

  7. So why are so many students unhappy in college? There are two main reasons why I believe particularly democrat students have a harder time adjusting to college: (1) they tend to be less mature, and (2) they were coddled by “helicopter parents” their entire life. Couple that with the fact that a substantial number of college students are attending college only because they have nothing better to do and you have your answer.

    1. It’s not the parents — it’s the therapudic state. Adults over age 35-40 would not recognize K-12 today. It’s also a gulag of leftism.

      That is what I mean about conservatives being battle-hardened.

    2. That isn’t untrue, but it would then show equal effects across liberal and conservative students, assuming that their family’s of origin cultural characteristics and parenting styles average out at the group level.

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