Throughout the community, Freeport High School’s reputation has been tainted with negatively connotated diction and local news stories that distort the public’s perception. Like all schools, there are always things Freeport High School could improve on, but original scientific research conducted and designed by students is one that requires little adjustments. 

Freeport High School offers a social psychology research class that allows students to develop their own research topic and execute their research goals using the scientific method. Instructed by Kyle Marcum and Joshua Bost, I was able to conduct political science research within the context of Freeport School District while also incorporating the disciplines of economics, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and statistics for a multidisciplinary approach. When studying people, government, and society, I found it necessary for my research to be multifaceted to ensure that all variables were considered and analysis could be as comprehensive as possible.

I studied how fear influences an individuals’ political beliefs and what deters individuals from his or her party’s juxtaposed antithesis. I began my study through the analysis of political fear from a historical perspective and progressed to compare it to the modern political climate. My research sought not only to understand individualistic political affiliations, but to also understand the divisive stratum that characterizes the “United” States’ political culture.

My research methods included both surveys and interviews to provide data that could be analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively, respectively. The survey I conducted had questions that could fall into one of three categories: social, economic, and philosophical. Each of the survey questions were designed to include answer choices that had left-leaning answer choices and right-leaning choices. When participants selected a left-leaning answer choice they received a score of -1.0 or -0.5, depending on the question type and extremity of response. When participants selected a right-leaning answer choice they received a score of +1.0 or +0.5, depending on the question type and extremity of response. The individual’s responses were then scored for each question category. The scores were used to develop an original, 3-dimensional political compass to place individuals on a political spectrum. Because there were three question categories, I created a three-axis plane in which to place participants. The x-axis represents social issues, the y-axis represents economic issues, and the z-axis represents philosophical beliefs (because the assessed philosophical questions demonstrated a political-party correlation, they were included as an axis in the spectrum). This spectrum was created to help readers visualize the diversity of respondents and illustrate response patterns between self-identifying Democrats, self-identifying Republicans, and politically uninformed individuals.

Blue dots correspond to Democratic respondents, red dots correspond to Republican respondents, and purple dots correspond to politically uninformed respondents.

At the end of the survey, participants had to select if they identified more with the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, or they could select that they did not know enough about politics to choose a particular party. This was used to develop correlations between certain responses and political-party affiliation. Although some voters prefer third parties, some voters are independent, and some voters choose not to align themselves with the two-party system, the purpose of this study was to analyze the two major parties and understand their divisiveness.

By the end of my study, I was able to conclude that the fear of change and progressive ideologies that were deemed “socialistic” by participants deters voters from the political left. Contrastingly, inhumanity stemming from the over-emphasis on individualism and the failure to understand the nation and the world as aggregated entities deters voters from the political right. My study demonstrates that individuals who believe that the societal status quo should not be maintained and who describe themselves as having a macro-level world perspective (a perspective in which the individual interprets the world as a whole) are more likely to have beliefs that align with the political left. Contrastingly, individuals who believe that the societal status quo should be maintained and describe themselves as having a micro-level world perspective (a world perspective in which the individual looks at the world from an individual-to individual perspective) are more likely to align with the political right. I found that these philosophical questions were often a stronger indicator of which political party participants identify the most with, rather than popular partisan debates such as free universal health care and gun control.

This is important for two reasons: it demonstrates that personal, deep-rooted perspectives and beliefs that have no discernible politicism do reflect political affiliations, secondly, ubiquitous issues are not as accurate for predicting one’s political affiliation as one might assume. For example, a number of surveyed individuals noted that they supported free universal health care, stricter firearm restrictions, and legislation designed to fight climate change yet they still identified themselves as Republican. However, the way they answered the philosophical questions, accurately predicted that they would identify with the Republican Party. The same pattern emerged in some Democratic respondents as well; self-identifying Democrats that answered policy questions in ways that followed a conservative approach likely answered the philosophical questions in ways that followed the hypothesized liberal response.

In an unintentional finding, participants who classified themselves as politically uninformed were more likely to respond more conservatively than progressively. This is because the status quo in US politics is conservatism. In fact, just 22% of Democratic respondents said that their beliefs seek to maintain the status quo, compared to 54% of Republicans and 42% of politically uninformed individuals. Progressivism is what ended slavery and segregation. Progressives advocated for women’s right to vote and LGBTQ+ rights. Progressivism created workers rights and minimum wage laws. The status quo is conservatism, and when someone is not informed about political issues, they stick to what is comfortable and normalized. For example, why would someone who is not politically informed understand the desire for federally funded universal health care if he or she already has good insurance? Or, why would a white man who has never faced police discrimination understand the “defund the police” argument, if he has never experienced institutionalized racism? Obviously, voters can be informed and conservative, however, it is harder for uninformed citizens to understand the need for progressive initiatives if they do not understand the root cause for such propositions. 

Because Freeport School District is not a demographically accurate microcosm of the US, this study can not be veraciously extrapolated to broader contexts. However, history, as well as the current state of US affairs, signify the role that fear has had in shaping public policy, debate, and issues that voters esteem—so, it is not implausible that this study would follow similar trends in other regions with differing demographics. My research demonstrates how the fear of change restrains the US from progressive advancements, which helps expound the general conservative impulse that characterizes US history and politics. 

Part Two Continues Tomorrow Thursday September, 10th.

“Farah Tolu-Honary is a graduate of Freeport High School and now studies political science and international relations at Beloit College. Issues most important to her include climate change, income inequality, and foreign affairs.”