Colleges and universities are famous (or infamous) political hotbeds. Some students prefer to steer clear of the political drama in favor of a more neutralized, purely academic setting. For others, politics is half (if not all) the fun, and college gives students the unique opportunity to explore, participate, and study politics in a vibrant and lively setting. Whether it’s through publications and debate teams, or in student-run minority groups, these are the students for whom politics are essential to their identity. Hence, the political makeup of a school is perhaps its most important character. For those, we’ve assembled a list of the top 25 most political universities in the country.
- 50%: Ranking of the school among conservative or liberal students self-reporting on themselves and the campus affiliation as a whole on Niche.
- 50%: Percentage of campus polled who are politically affiliated.
We also consulted our ranking of the top 100 best online colleges during our research.
The Most Political Universities: Get Ready to Debate!
Evergreen State College tops the list with nearly 96% of its student body politically affiliated. As a whole, 67% of students report the campus as progressive to very liberal, with 27% reporting it as generally liberal. Evergreen prides itself on tolerance and inclusion, and the LGBT community especially has a strong presence. Another source of pride is the school’s trademark (and name-implied) eco-friendliness. The school’s 35,000-square-foot organic farm includes a a wide variety of crops and flock of hens. Produce from the farm is used for campus food services and sold to the Evergreen community through CSA shares. 1,000 acres of forest and the untouched Evergreen beach also provide numerous opportunities for environmental sustainability research. Some student-run political groups include the Evergreen Socialist Alternative, Abolish Cops and Prisons, and Evergreen Young Americans for Liberty, among others. The school’s motto, “Omnia Extares,” appropriately captures the overarching attitude: “Let it all hang out.”
2. Reed College
Reed College is famously one of the most politically active campuses in the country. During the 1950s McCarthyite era, one notable Marxist professor was fired for failing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigation. Other famous moments in the school’s history include the founder’s virulent opposition to US involvement in World War I, early feminist efforts, and inviting a leader of the Socialist Party of America to speak on campus about the Russian Revolution. 91% of the student body reports as politically affiliated, and as a whole the campus is essentially divided among moderate liberals to far-left liberals. The LGBT community is represented on campus by the QA (Queer Alliance), and LGBT students report a very open, inclusive, and accepting student body. The campus has a number of additional student groups and political organizations, but most of these are relatively informal, excepting partnerships with Oxfam and Planned Parenthood. Perhaps all you really need to know is the school’s unofficial, self-aware motto: “Communism, Atheism, Free Love.”
As the only predominantly conservative school on the list, 91% of Air Force students – properly, cadets – report as politically affiliated. The school’s cadet body and faculty are largely Christian, though Air Force welcomes cadets of all creeds and faiths, and has recently built additional areas of worship for other religions. Because it is a tax-payer funded institution, students come from a very diverse economic backgrounds, and an international program brings in students from around the world. For admission, all candidates must go through a thorough vetting process and meet the school’s exceptionally high academic, physical, and ethical standards. All candidates must also be formally nominated by a U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative. The Cadet Honor Code is among Air Force’s most time-honored traditions. Cadets are considered “guardians and stewards” of the code, which reads: “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably.”
Grinnell College’s student body reports as nearly 91% politically affiliated, nearly exclusively to the left, from moderate and radical liberals, to outright anarchists. Nonetheless, right-wing students do exist and bring in notable speakers for the Young Republicans. Political Science is notably one of the more popular undergraduate majors, alongside Psychology, Economics, Biology, History, and English. The LGBT community is well-supported on campus, and the Stonewall Resource Center is home to a wealth of library materials relevant to LGBT concerns. Other student organizations and activist groups abound, including the unique Student Government Association, which gives students the opportunity to oversee a $360,000 budget per year. Grinnell students, in particular, have a strong focus on service. The Alternative Break allows students the chance to participate in service missions during holiday breaks, and as postgraduate program called Grinnell Corps travels around the world on projects. Grinnell has more alumni per capita in the Peace Corps than any other college in the United States.
The University of California – Santa Cruz has a lively political atmosphere on campus, with 94% of students reporting as politically affiliated. Though the area was mostly populated by relatively conservatives in the 50s, in the 60s the rise of counterculture and student activist organizations turned the political tide firmly to the left, where it lies now. Racial and economic diversity are cornerstones of the school’s identity, and the LGBT community is welcome and vibrant. There are also a new crop of minority groups for students. Very much in tune with the SoCal culture at large, Santa Cruz is known in part for its “cannabis culture”; perhaps fittingly, the school is also home to the vaunted and gigantic Grateful Dead archives, which became open to the public in 2012. Also of note is the school’s emphasis on environmental sustainability, with nearly 30 sustainability organizations, departments, gardens, and funding bodies.
Mount Holyoke College has 90% of its student body reporting as politically affiliated. On the whole, most students report as either liberal or very liberal, though a vocal conservative community also exists. According to students, there are regular rallies held by campus buildings for political purposes and shows of solidarity on issues from international conflicts and labor rights. In particular, the Student Coalition for Action is a very active and enthusiastic group. The LGBT community is well-received, as well. The Jeannette Marks house, run by the True Colors organization, is the community’s designated safe space and is open to everyone. A wide range of minority groups are also available: AASIA (Asian American Sisters in Action), MHACASA (Mount Holyoke African and Caribbean Student Association), and more, including several cultural and heritage houses.
Carleton College’s student body reports as nearly 88% politically affiliated, mostly to the left. The Carleton Student Association recently decided to not renew a the school’s contract with Coca-Cola due to political concerns. Election cycles are typically particularly active, with students making their political voices heard and encouraging the campus and community to vote. In addition to standard political groups like College Democrats and College Republicans, Carleton also has several minority clubs on campus. Among these include American Native People’s Organization, Coalition of Hmong Students, Men of Color, and Asian Students in America. Further, the LGBT community and general campus tolerance are highly valued. On-campus groups include Out After Carleton, Coming Out Support Group, CIAO, and SAGA. Some notable political or politically-affiliated alumni include former US Supreme Court Justice Pierce Butler, former US Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird, former Meet the Press host Garrick Utley, former editor-in-chief of Politico John F. Harris, and American journalist and television personality Jonathan Capehart.
Oberlin College has a long history of political activism, and 93% of its student body reports as being politically affiliated. The college admitted its first African American students in 1833, including George B. Vashon, who became a founding professor at Howard University and the first black lawyer admitted to the Bar in the state of New York. Further, Oberlin admitted its first women – four in total – in 1837. Oberlin was also instrumental in the Underground Railroad effort, thanks in large part to its staunchly abolitionist president. Today, progressive politics remain the hallmark. The LGBT community is unanimously accepted, and one of the year’s largest events is the Drag Ball. Protests and demonstrations are a regular day-to-day occurrence and intimately connected to campus life. Further, Oberlin makes a concerted effort to keep environmental sustainability issues and projects at the forefront, with the goal to be climate neutral by 2025.
Swarthmore, with 86% of its campus reporting as politically affiliated, has long been a bastion of progressive politics. Indeed, many of its founders were major figures in the abolitionist and feminist movements of the 19th century. Perhaps most indicative of the school’s fondness for politics, the Swarthmore Mock Trial program has been widely recognized as one of the nation’s best and always draws a large team. The Amos J. Peaslee Debate Society is equally active and influential. Diversity is a major focus of the school, and students come from over 60 countries and all 50 states. The LGBT community is supported and accepted across campus and has the SQU (Swarthmore Queer Union). Twice a year, the SQU sponsors two pride weeks, which include a coming-out week and symposium. Several groups exist for minority students, including SASS (Swarthmore African American Society), Enlace (a Latino organization), and SOCA (a group for students of Caribbean ancestry). It’s also worth noting that Swarthmore’s proximity to Philadelphia give students the opportunity to participate in local politics and campaigns on a large scale.
10. Smith College
Smith College has 89% of its student body reporting as politically affiliated, almost entirely to the left, with students identifying as liberal to very liberal. Gender and LGBT issues are the central concerns on campus. The campus has recently voted on whether to remove the pronoun “she” to avoid excluding students who do not identify as female. The LGBT community is well-represented and heard on campus, and make up a large portion of the student body. Campus groups include a number of minority organizations: Asian Students Association, Black Students Alliance, Indigenous Smith Students and Allies, International Students Organization, KASS (Korean-American Students of Smith), Nosotras (Latina organization), Prism (Queer Students of Color), SACSA (Smith African and Caribbean Students Association), and more. The Smith Democrats have been voted the nation’s best chapter in the past. Some notable politically affiliated alumnae include Nancy Reagan, Gloria Steinem, Yolanda King, United States Senator Tammy Baldwin, Piper Kerman, and more.
The University of Vermont, like the state itself, is outspoken in its left of center politics. 85% of its student body reports being politically affiliated. With more than 100 student clubs and organizations, many are associated with political and social activism. Environmental awareness is a particular focus at UVM, and the university is widely regarded as one of the greenest in the country. The Dudley H. Davis Center is the first student center in the nation to receive U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold certification. Its climate action plans are equally ambitious: 100% carbon neutral electricity; 100% carbon neutral heating, cooling, and fleet by 2020; and zero net emissions by 2025. The Lawrence Debate Union is another noted factor on campus and competes in both the American Policy Debate and British Parliamentary debate formats. Politically affiliated alumni include Consuelo Northrup Bailey, Grace Coolidge, Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie, former Governor Madeleine Kunin, and more.
Columbia College Chicago has a student body that reports as 89% politically affiliated. Most students identify as liberal to progressively liberal, but CCC also has one of the most diverse student bodies on the list, with a campus represented by all 50 states and 41 countries. In this, it’s very much emblematic of Chicago itself and has campuses spread all throughout the city. The LGBT community is well-represented and supported. The Student Government Association of Columbia College Chicago gives students the opportunity to actively govern all aspects of campus life, consisting of an Executive Board, the Senate, and committees. Public meetings are held each Tuesday for students to stay up to date. Some politically affiliated campus organizations include the Asian Student Organization, Students Supporting Israel, Hillel, the International Student Organization, the Columbia College Association of Black Journalists (CCABJ), Hispanic Journalists of Columbia (HJC), and Common Ground.
13. Bard College
Bard College is famous for its untraditional and unique academics, and its political life is no different. With 93% of its students reporting as politically affiliated, the campus is almost entirely left of center, with many on the far end of the spectrum, as well. As with most schools, history can account for much of the school’s political persuasion. Then governor of New York Franklin D. Roosevelt was instrumental in saving the school from insolvency during the Great Depression, and Bard was a haven for intellectual emigres from Europe during World War II. Today, students regularly engage in political activities – issues include migrant labor, U.S. hegemony, and civil rights – and even often organize trips to join notable protests around the country (often to the relatively close NYC). Additional student minority groups include Asian American Students Organization, Black Students Organization, Christian Students Fellowship, International Students Organization, Jewish Students Organization, Latin American Students Organization, and the Muslim Students Organization.
Humboldt State University’s student body reports 91% political affiliation. Most of the campus leans to the left or far left, though the school is relatively diverse and moderates and conservatives can be found as well. The LGBT community is accepted and supported on campus with no reservations. The school’s namesake – famed explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt – would certainly approve of the school’s dedication to environmental causes. The Humboldt Energy Independence Fund (HEIF) uses student fees to support renewable energy and energy efficiency projects throughout the campus. Students, faculty members, and staff all consciously contribute to creating a sustainable campus with goals toward energy-independence. In addition, the students also run the Waste Reduction and Resource Awareness Program (WRRAP), which aims to make HSU a zero-waste campus. In part because of its environmental awareness, as well as the student body’s general political and community activism, HSU has been listed in the Princeton Review‘s Colleges With a Conscience rankings.
15. Vassar College
Vassar College’s student body reports 85% political affiliation, with most of the school leaning to the left. The LGBT community, represented by the Queer Coalition, is well supported and accepted on campus, and numerous other student minority groups make their presence felt, too: the Black Student Union, the Asian Film & Media Club, and the Alana Center, which serves as a resource center for African American/Black, Latino, Asian/Asian American and Native American students. Some student-run political groups include the Vassar College Democrats, the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union, and the Vassar Greens. The Vassar Chronicle is the school’s political journal, in which students engage in contemporary political issues with op-eds and long-form columns. And Vassar students don’t simply posture as politicos – they know their stuff. Politcal Science is one of the college’s most popular majors, alongside English, Psychology, Economics and Biology.
Wesleyan University’s student body reports 87% political affiliation, almost all to the left, though moderates exist, as well. This isn’t particularly surprising: Wesleyan has prided itself on progressive politics throughout its history. In 1872, it became one of the first colleges in the nation to attempt a coeducation model with male and female students. Today, social activism is a cornerstone of the campus, and U.S. News & World Report described the University as one of “20 Colleges Where It’s Easiest to Get Involved.” The Debate Society and Environmental Organizers’ Network (EON) are two especially prominent forums/organizations in which students can exercise their political ideals. Hermes, the student-run progressive newspaper, is another popular and well-regarded institution. Politically affiliated alumni include former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, former Vermont governor Peter Shumlin, and more.
SUNY Purchase College has a students body that reports as 83% politically affiliated. Most students lean liberal to progressively liberal, but right wing students are on campus and able to voice their opinions. The LGBT community is well represented and supported on campus, and there are numerous other minority student groups, as well: Latinos Unidos, OAPIA (Organization of African People in America), Hillel, and SOCA (Student Organization of Caribbean Ancestry), among others. The campus also has two prominent political groups. The NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group) offers an on-campus internship and puts students in contact with political campaigns. PUSH: Ideas Into Action leads local and global activist events and discussions. Purchase has a long list of notable alumni that are affiliated with politics.
San Francisco State University’s student body reports 88% political affiliation, most of which is decidedly to the left. The student protests of the 60s had – and continue to have – a large effect on the campus’s political makeup. Groups such as he Black Students Union, Third World Liberation Front, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) regularly protested, particularly regarding the Vietnam War, and held sit-ins, rallies, marches, and teach-ins. In 1968, students began what would become the longest student strike in history, which culminated in the addition of an Ethnic Studies program (the strike didn’t end until 1969). Continuing the tradition of social justice demonstrations, several notable protests have occurred in the present day, including against the Iraq War and between Pro-Palestine and Pro-Israel factions. The LGBT community is widely supported on campus and is represented by the PRIDE at SF State Committee and Queer Alliance. SFSU’s politically affiliated alumni are predictably large in number and include senators, representatives, mayors, journalists, activists, judges, and more.
Long the face of progressive politics in academia, Cal Berkeley’s student body reports as 82% politically affiliated. Even before it became the center of Vietnam protests and SDS rallies in the 1960s, Berkeley students were demonstrating against World War II. (Even while faculty member J. Robert Oppenheimer was named to head the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb.) Unsurprisingly, the McCarthy reign in the 50s lead to many controversies and protests, with several faculty members being fired over refusals to cooperate. While still famously to the left, Berkeley has evolved over the years and now is home to an outspoken College Republicans group, which has sparked a lively political debate on campus. The LGBT community is well supported, and enjoys several safe spaces, such as the Queer Resource Center and Unity House. In total, Berkeley has nearly 100 student-run activist organizations and groups, including MEChXA de UC Berkeley, Berkeley American Civil Liberties Union, Berkeley Students for Life, Campus Greens, The Sustainability Team (STEAM), the Berkeley Student Food Collective, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Cal Berkeley Democrats.
Macalester College’s student body reports 91% political affiliation. With a unique emphasis on international unity, Macalester has made a concerted effort throughout its history to promote diversity and internationalism. (It still flies a United Nations flag directly below the flag of the United States.) And beginning in the 40s and 50s, Macalester became one of the first colleges in the country to begin recruiting and admitting students from around the world, in addition to bringing in international faculty. Today, students come from all 50 states and a stunning 87 countries around the world, resulting in a highly diverse and inclusive environment. And while Macalester is generally to the left, all students of any political persuasion are welcome to contribute to a vibrant on-campus discourse. Students also run political debate teams, magazines, newspapers, mock trials and more. Both the College Democrats and Republicans make their presence felt on campus, as do many other special interest and minority groups. The LBT community is welcome and well represented, and, perhaps above all, students believe in the importance of civic engagement, regardless of creed, race, or political background.
21. Amherst College
Amherst College’s student body reports 82% political affiliation. While largely liberal and progressive, right wing students make their presence felt with the College Republicans. With more than 140 student groups on campus, Amherst has an extraordinary amount of opportunities for a school of its size. The LGBT community is well-supported and there are a number of gender interest groups on campus, including he Amherst College Pride Alliance (LBGTQA), Amherst Feminist Alliance, the Women’s Center, Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect. Further, a large portion of minority groups: AIKYA, the Asian Student Association, the Black Students Union, Chicano Caucus, International Student Association (ISA), Pacific Islander/South East Asian Students (PISEAS). Students may also participate in political activities through debates, publications, and service groups. Among the vaunted political alumni of Amherst are: Calvin Coolidge, the current Sovereign Prince of Monaco, two prime ministers of Greece, the fourth president of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, a Chief Justice of the United States, and three Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Portland State University, with a student body reporting as 73% politically affiliated, has been voted among the most liberal academic institutions in the country. The university has a particular point of emphasis on environmental issues and sustainability, with a $25 million grant devoted exclusively to clean energy. The initiative is sectioned into four main goals: “creating sustainable urban communities, the integration of human societies and the natural environment, implementing sustainability and mechanisms of change and measuring sustainability.” The student government, the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU), handles significant administrative responsibilities and gives students valuable experience in basic governing concerns. Numerous political publications are student-run, and the LGBT community is accepted throughout campus, with Queer Resource Center available for interested students.
Columbia University, with a student body reporting as 76% politically affiliated, has perhaps more historical clout than anyone on the list: 5 Founding Fathers, 3 US Presidents, 9 Supreme Court Justices, and 26 other heads of state around the world. Not to mention over 100 Nobel Prize laureates. Established initially as King’s College in 1754 by George II, Columbia has been inextricably tied to politics ever since, including its notable involvement in the Manhattan Project and the student activism of the 1960s. Today, students are largely liberal, though conservative students make their voices heard on campus, too. The university has two widely respected journals, The Current and The Columbia Political Review, which allow and encourage students to engage in the political debates of the day. Further, the one-of-a-kind World Leaders Forum invites leaders from across the world to speak at Columbia, giving students the unique opportunity to come face-to-face with the wide world of international affairs. (Being within a subway ride to the United Nations headquarters doesn’t hurt either.) Columbia’s LGBT is accepted across campus, and there are numerous additional student-run minority groups for interested students.
24. SUNY New Paltz
SUNY New Paltz’s student body reports a 78% political affiliation. Nearly all students identify as either left or far-left, and the campus is routinely home to protests and demonstrations, oftentimes even sending buses to Albany for solidarity. This has historically been the case as well, with several notable social activist movements in the 60s and then again in the late 90s. In particular, with its 3:1 female to male student ratio, New Paltz has developed a reputation for its feminist leadership and interests, with numerous groups dedicated to women’s issues and several academic disciplines on the topic. Organizations like the Queer Action Coalition (QAC) are highly active on campus, and the LGBT community is well represented and supported. Notable politically affiliated alumni include state senators, local politicians, reporters, political analysts, mayors, and more. Among the biggest minority student groups are the Black Student Union and the Asian Student Association.
Carnegie Mellon University’s student body reports a 63% political affiliation. While nominally left of center, students political persuasions are highly diverse: there are student groups for Democrats, Libertarians, and Republicans. CMU’s reputation often attracts top political dignitaries from around the world, which students particularly enjoy as a unique opportunity. The university also has a prestigious international program that spans from Qatar and Lisbon, to Greece and Japan, giving students the ability to engage with the political world on a globalized scale. The LGBT community is well represented and supported across campus, and Carnegie Melon has a wealth of minority organizations, as well: Spirit for African Americans, ASA (Asian Student Association), and Mayur (the Indian student association) are among the 50 multicultural groups on campus. Among the school’s noted politically affiliated alumni are Gust Avrakotos (CIA Directorate of Operations; attended for 2 years), former US Secretary of Defense Charles Erwin Wilson, former US Congressman Peter J. De Muth, and numerous other mayors, staff members, and international political figures.