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A new political divide: Nearly half of college students wouldn’t room with someone who votes differently

A new NBC News/Generation Lab survey shows returning college sophomores remain optimistic about their futures but also politically divided.
The Catholic University campus in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19, 2020.
The Catholic University campus in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19, 2020.Graeme Sloan / Sipa USA via AP file

Almost half of second-year college students say they wouldn’t choose to be roommates with someone who supported a different presidential candidate than they did in 2020.

A majority say they wouldn't go on a date with someone who voted differently, and nearly two-thirds of them say they couldn’t see themselves marrying someone who backed a different presidential candidate two years ago.

Those are the findings of a new online NBC News/Generation Lab poll of the class of 2025 as they begin their second year of college.

A year ago, NBC News and Generation Lab checked in with the class of 2025 — as they were starting their first year of college — and found they were optimistic about their futures, less optimistic about the country’s direction and experiencing anxiety and depression.

One year later, those students remain optimistic about their personal lives, they continue to be down on the country’s direction, and many of them still experience anxiety and depression.

But the new poll also shows how divided they are politically — when it comes to whom they would share a dorm room with, date or marry.

“I could never live with someone who supported a racist, homophobic, xenophobic and sexist person,” said September Mostransky, 18, of Siena College in Loudonville, New York, referring to former President Donald Trump.

“I could possibly room with somebody who is Republican. But when it comes down to it, Donald Trump is not the average Republican candidate,” Mostransky added.

Ethan Strohmetz, 19, a Republican who attends Catholic University in Washington, D.C., has a different opinion.

“A person’s political views do not affect whether or not I would have a friendship or relationship with them,” he said. “Many of my friends have vastly different political views than I do, but I do not let that affect our friendship.”

Overall, the new poll finds a combined 54% of respondents say they would “definitely” or “probably” room with someone who supported the presidential candidate they opposed in 2020, while 46% said they would “probably not” or “definitely not.”

Democratic respondents are much more opposed to rooming with someone who voted differently in 2020 (62% of them say they would “probably not” or “definitely not” room with such a person) than Republican respondents are (28%).

In addition, a combined 53% of all respondents say they definitely or probably wouldn’t go on a date with someone who voted differently, compared to 47% who say they definitely or probably would.

And when it comes to marriage, 63% of all respondents say they couldn’t see themselves marrying someone who voted differently, while 37% disagreed and said they could see themselves marrying such a person.

“That’s a pretty powerful picture — you have Trump dorms and Biden dorms,” said Generation Labs founder Cyrus Beschloss, discussing the survey’s finding that nearly half of the second-year college students wouldn’t room with political opposites.

“I don’t think I would have seen that when I was starting college in 2015,” he added.

Further demonstrating how politics and values shape such college students’ lives, a combined 62% say they probably or definitely wouldn’t work for a company that donated to a cause conflicting with their values, while 37% said they probably/definitely would.

Optimistic about their lives, pessimistic about country’s future

Also in the NBC News/Generation Lab poll, a whopping 86% of the rising college sophomores say they are either super optimistic (23%) or pretty optimistic (63%) about their future lives, compared with 13% who are pessimistic.

That’s down just slightly from the 92% who said they were optimistic in last year’s survey.

But just 34% said they were optimistic about the U.S.’s future (down by 14 points from last year), and only 36% said they were optimistic about the world (down by 24 points).

“Things were looking good last year,” Beschloss said about the changes from a year ago. “Russia hadn’t happened,” he said, referring to its invasion of Ukraine.

“We had our [Covid] vaccines rolling out,” he added.

And the poll finds 67% of respondents saying they’ve experienced anxiety in the past year, as well as 46% who say they’ve experienced depression — essentially unchanged from last year’s results.

A combined 88% say they are extremely (46%) or quite (42%) concerned about the prices of gasoline, rent and food.

The NBC News/Generation Lab poll was conducted Aug. 12-17 of 1,077 rising college sophomores — from either two- or four-year institutions, and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 2.6 percentage points.