How Have We Grown, Stanford? A Look at 5 Years of Change

By Eden Gibson. Graphics by Kelsey Wang.

The Marriage Pact paid its 5th visit to Stanford this past fall — and to commemorate our quinquennial milestone, we thought we’d take a look back to when it all began.

Last January, we looked at the aggregated Marriage Pact data to uncover the most salient differences in survey responses between 2019 and 2020. (You can read that story here.) This time around, we’ll take a look at Stanford’s longer-term changes using longitudinal data dating back to 2018.

In many cases, Stanford students would not dispute that campus life — and the political and social climate in the country at large — is vastly different than it was 4 years ago. But in what areas have students changed the most?

We’ll start with a familiar topic: politics (what else?). One thing’s for certain — the Stanford student body has become increasingly more liberal since 2018. In 2020, the number of socialist-identifying students surpassed the number of Republicans on campus for the first time — and the divide grew even wider in 2021.

Students also leaned further left this year on hot-button social and economic issues — specifically regarding abortion and wealth distribution. The average response for “Billionaires should not exist” — with 7 being the highest level of agreement — rose from 4.2 to 4.6 over the past year. Meanwhile, the percentage that selected 7 for the statement “Abortion should always be legal” has increased by almost 10 percent since 2018.

Despite the fact that Stanford students have become more progressive in their political attitudes, political engagement has surprisingly dwindled in the past year.

In 2020, we saw a sharp spike in political and social engagement, which we can reasonably attribute to the polarization surrounding the presidential election. Further, over 50% of students said they had strong feelings about their partner’s political affiliation — compared to only 40% in 2019.

From 2020 to 2021, however, we saw a sudden drop in engagement. Students cared less about voting and social activism, and fewer students felt that political affiliation was a relationship dealbreaker. It’s likely that political discord — and the incentive to stay politically and socially conscious — simply isn’t as prevalent in the wake of the election as it was in the weeks leading up to voting day. Nonetheless, it seems the events of 2020 left a lasting impression on campus politics, as the numbers for all three questions remained higher than they were initially in 2019.

Political stances weren’t the only thing that shifted this past year. Stanford students also seemed to take a more liberal stance on drug use — especially when it came to cigarettes. It’s possible that shifting political opinions led students to be more tolerant in general, including of tobacco use by their prospective partners.

Last but not least, the most pronounced change that took place over the past couple of years wasn’t Stanford students’ attitudes towards politics or substances, but their dedication to academic integrity. The percent of students that agreed with the statement “I take the Stanford Honor Code seriously” dropped from 70 to 54 percent between 2019 and 2021, coincidentally lining up with the onset of the pandemic. Perhaps four excruciating quarters of online school drove students to bend the rules a bit (don’t worry — your secret’s safe with us).

It’s been a wild ride, Stanford — we can’t wait to see where you’ll head next.

Eden is a writer for the Marriage Pact. She can be reached at eden ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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The Marriage Pact

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