The Lawrence High School senior class has more liberals than conservatives, but ideologically speaking, it's a pretty independant group.
Among seniors responding to a Journal-World survey this month, 41 percent said they considered themselves conservative, and 59 percent described themselves as liberals. Fewer than 57 percent of seniors surveyed last year said they were liberal, and only 56 percent of seniors polled in 1988 said the same.
At the same time, fewer students in the class of 1990 describe themselves as Democrats 26.5 percent this year compared with more than 27 percent last year.
The GOP also lost supporters, with the number of seniors saying they would identify themselves as Republicans falling from 40 percent last year to 35 percent this year.
Meanwhile, the number of seniors claiming to be political independents jumped from 33 percent in 1989 to 38 percent this year.
Paul Stuewe, who teaches social studies at LHS, said those numbers aren't at all surprising. The nation as a whole is in a period of political "de-alignment," Stuewe said, and LHS seniors are following that trend.
"WE'RE MOVING away from political parties and toward interest groups," he said.
In addition, Stuewe thinks that many of his students see neither Republicans nor Democrats as being very effective lawmakers, especially in terms of solving the country's deficit problem.
"We're still in the era where we want to pretend that everything's all right, and they (lawmakers) don't care about getting credit for something as long as they don't get blamed for it," Stuewe said. "The consensus of the class is not too hopeful. They don't seem to think there is a political will sufficient to make difficult choices on spending and taxing."
Some seniors cited other reasons for the smaller number of students identifying with political parties.
Senior Angie Kelly said she thought students were less concerned about political parties than "the candidates and the issues they stand for."
SENIOR JOEY KEAN noted that 1988 was a presidential year, which increases political interest, so last year's seniors may have been more likely to affiliate themselves with one party or the other.
John Forbes, activities director at LHS, said Kean could have a point in that LHS students usually ask to form politically based organizations only during years when there are presidential elections.
Perhaps somewhat harder to explain is how students decide to define themselves as liberal or conservative. Stuewe said the two labels are rather nebulous terms "what is liberal to one person could be conservative to someone else."
Although 58 percent of the seniors call themselves liberals, senior women have a stronger liberal bent than do senior men.
A total of 66.47 percent of women described themselves as liberal, while a total of 50.32 percent of senior men think of themselves as liberals.
WHEN ASKED about political party affiliation, senior women split this way: 32.5 percent Republican, 30.8 percent Democrat and 36.6 percent independent.
The breakdown for senior men was: 38 percent Republican, 21.9 percent Democrat and 40 percent independent.
Senior Helen Lee said she thought about her personal stands on various social issues, such as the death penalty and abortion, to label herself a liberal.
But when it comes to economic issues, "I don't know whether to classify myself liberal or conservative," she said.
Senior Mischa Gould, on the other hand, thinks many students who said they were liberal were referring more to a state of mind and not so much to current issues.
"They probably feel that they're free thinkers and that they're open to changes in new directions," she said.