Harvard MBAs: Hillary By A Landslide

If the election were held only at Harvard Business School, Hillary Clinton would win in a landslide, according to a poll of 236 first-years

If the presidential election were held only at Harvard Business School, Hillary Clinton would win in a landslide, 85% to Donald Trump’s 3%

A lot can happen in the few days left between now and the U.S. presidential election Nov. 8, but as polls show Hillary Clinton breaking away from Donald Trump nationally and in several key battleground states, the outcome is beginning to come into focus. If the election were held only among Harvard Business School students, however, there would be no doubt: Clinton would win in a landslide.

While Clinton’s lead nationally has fluctuated between 4% and 15% in recent days, a poll of 236 first-year HBS students published in the student newspaper The Harbus on Tuesday (Oct. 18) shows Clinton crushing Trump, 85% to 3%, with a big advantage among independent voters. In the HBS poll, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson has 10% support, followed by Green Party nominee Jill Stein at 2% support, roughly the same as those candidates’ levels of support nationally.

“We were aware that the general mood (at HBS) was pro-Clinton,” says Jeremy Au, MBA class of 2017, who with classmate Rafael Rivera conducted the poll and wrote about it in The Harbus. “But I think the magnitude was unexpected. And we did not expect that there would be a splintering of the Republican vote between Trump and Gary Johnson.”


Jeremy Au

Jeremy Au

The Harbus Presidential Election poll was conducted from September 19 to October 3. Students were surveyed across multiple sections via in-class voting with privacy screens, Au tells Poets&Quants, and the data was weighted for nationality and gender. The margin of error is ±5.5%. Au says the survey was designed in the mold of polls by NBC, Gallup, SurveyMonkey, and others. “We’re confident that the survey is statistically rigorous,” Au says.

As Au and Rivera write in The Harbus, four key factors contributed to Clinton’s overwhelming lead among HBS students. First was sitting President Obama’s very high approval rating — 88%, compared to about 55% nationwide. In addition, HBS students prefer the Democratic Party to the Republican Party by wide margins (53% to 11%), while the country is more evenly divided (36% Democrat, 29% Republican).

Finally, Au and Rivera say, more HBS Democrats support Clinton (94%) than HBS Republicans support Trump (52%), while independent students have no love for Trump whatsoever, with 0% breaking for the New York businessman and 80% supporting Clinton.

“Rafael and I came together because we both have a lot of questions about what the outcome of the election would be,” Au says. “The results pretty much reflect what we expected, though the margins are wider than we thought.”


Rafael Rivera

Rafael Rivera

The HBS poll covered more ground than the presidential election. Among its other findings: On a host of issues, HBS students are more socially liberal than U.S. voters. The majority of students support stricter gun controls (93% versus 56% of U.S. voters), for example, and the vast majority believe that women lack the same opportunities as men (83% versus 55%). HBS students also are three times more likely to support increased immigration (63% versus 21%). Interestingly, there was little daylight between American and international students on these issues.

However, Au says, international students were less likely to identify as Republicans, which explains that group’s 88% support for Clinton (compared to 84% among American students). “International students are broadly more socially liberal,” Au says. “They support gun control, increased immigration, and the usage of taxation to redistribute wealth.”


Au points out that HBS students overall are more optimistic than U.S. voters, more than twice as likely to believe that life will be better for the next generation of Americans (43% versus 21% of U.S. voters). A smaller slice of respondents say U.S. race relations are deteriorating (43% versus 65%); overall, American students are more optimistic about the country’s future, including race relations, than international students.

HBS students didn’t entirely depart from the views of the nation as a whole: Like most U.S. voters, the students believe in fairer wealth distribution — just not through taxes. Sixty-two percent of HBS students believe wealth should be more evenly distributed, compared to 63% of U.S. voters. Only 41% of students support higher taxes on the rich to “redistribute” wealth, just as 45% of U.S. voters do. In this case, international students were much more likely to support taxation than American students.

Au and Rivera point to three key factors influencing the poll results: “HBS students,” they write, “have higher levels of education, higher levels of household income, and are younger than the general U.S. population. Most HBS students have work experience in the private sector, and are thus more exposed to workplace issues, international markets, and diverse work teams. First-year HBS students have also undergone 2 months of daily interactions within 90-student sections, which are sorted for high diversity in nationalities, ethnicities, and experiences.”


Harvard’s rejection of Trump mirrors the views on another Ivy B-school campus. In July, Wharton students launched a petition disavowing Trump that has since gathered nearly 4,000 signatures. Trump graduated from Wharton’s undergraduate business program in 1968 and often cites that fact on the campaign trail. “We, proud students, alumni, and faculty of Wharton, are outraged that an affiliation with our school is being used to legitimize prejudice and intolerance,” the letter reads. “Although we do not aim to make any political endorsements with this letter, we do express our unequivocal stance against the xenophobia, sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry that you have actively and implicitly endorsed in your campaign.”

The signatories included professors and several administrators, including Allie Harcharek Ilagan, manager of marketing and communications for the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, and Stephanie Kim, an associate director of the same initiative. Most of support for the document appears to come from current or recently graduated students, such as Christine Goldrick, a joint MBA/MPA candidate who graduates next year, and Zach Kahn, who was president of the Wharton Graduate Association, the MBA student association on campus. Several dozen chose to remain anonymous.

“I want the world to know that Trump’s values do not represent the larger Wharton community,” Elea McDonnell Feit, former director of Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative, told Poets&Quants in July.

See the next pages for more data on the Harvard student presidential poll. 

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