Student Attitudes Association Survey FAQ

Last Update February 5, 2019

What is FIRE?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational foundation based in Philadelphia, PA. FIRE’s mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates students, faculty, alumni, trustees, and the public about the threats to these rights on our campuses, and provides the means to preserve them.

Why did FIRE pursue this survey?

Recently, there have been multiple cases and controversies at American colleges that have centered around students’ free association rights on campus. In particular, we were interested in finding out what students think about “all-comers policies” (policies that prohibit student groups from deciding their own requirements for leadership and membership), bans on single-gender organizations at colleges and universities, and how student groups are funded.

In addition to understanding students’ attitudes toward their free association rights, we checked in on students’ views toward expression on campus. It is a topic that has been studied with more frequency in recent years, and one that FIRE last surveyed students about in 2017.

Finally, we used this survey as an opportunity to delve into students’ views toward, and memories of, the violence, protests, and counter-protests that took place in Charlottesville, VA, in August 2017.

By publishing the results of this survey, we hope to contribute to a national conversation about students’ expression and association rights at American colleges and universities.

Who administered the survey?

FIRE contracted with YouGov (California), a nonpartisan polling and research firm. YouGov has polled for The New York Times and The Economist. The Pew Research Center finds that YouGov outperforms its competitors when it comes to providing accurate survey results.

How many people were interviewed?

YouGov used an online survey to interview a total of 2,488 two- and four-year undergraduate students at American colleges and universities. Once YouGov completed the interviews, they provided us with a final data set of responses from 2,225 students.

When was the survey conducted?

Students responded to the survey between September 24 and October 11, 2018.

What is the margin of error for the survey?

Tabulations from the overall sample have an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. A portion of the survey, consisting of six questions, was split so that half of the respondents were asked questions about “civil liberties,” and the other half of the respondents were asked questions about “civil rights.” Tabulations from the “civil liberties” questions have an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Tabulations from the “civil rights” questions have an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Tabulations taken from subgroups of these samples have a greater margin of error.

The margin of error and confidence level in a survey are a measurement of how accurate the tabulations are and how confident someone can be in the tabulations. For example, we report that 96 percent of students think it is important that their civil rights or liberties are protected. Because this question was asked of all 2,225 students in our overall sample, our margin of error means that our result may differ up to 2.3 percentage points in either direction, so that in the general population between 93.7 percent and 98.3 percent of students think that it is important that their civil rights or liberties are protected. Our confidence level means that if our survey was conducted 100 times, we would find the same results for this statistic 95 of those times.

What is a non-probability sample and why did FIRE use one for its survey?

We decided to pursue a non-probability methodology after considering the cost, speed, and data quality that we needed for this project. Like The New York Times and The Economist, we decided to contract with YouGov, the most accurate non-probability polling company.

Non-probability sampling is a new methodology in the survey field, and it has strengths and weaknesses just like more traditional probability sampling. The main weakness of non-probability sampling is that, unlike in a probability sample, not every individual in the population of interest has the same likelihood of being sampled for a response. In other words, there is concern that data collected with this method does not accurately reflect the views of the population polled. To make up for this weakness, a matching and weighting process is undertaken so that the non-probability sample reflects the population of interest as closely as possible. We looked at the tabulations for both the weighted and unweighted data, and the results were extremely similar.

How was the sample weighted?

Our poll was administered online to a sample of YouGov’s panel of respondents. After students responded to the survey, YouGov matched the responses down to our final sample using a sampling frame from the 2016 American Community Survey. Weights for each response were calculated by YouGov based on the respondent’s gender, race, age, education, and geographic region.

How was the survey funded?

The survey and resulting report were made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

How can I access your survey’s data?

We have made the tabulations and toplines available on our website. The survey questionnaire and its specifications are found at the end of the survey report.

I’m a member of the media, who should I contact to talk about the survey?

All media requests can be emailed to, or you can contact FIRE Communications Coordinator Bill Rickards at 215-717-3473.