Harry Potter readers hated George W. Bush, new research suggests

Dylan Stableford
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Why do some millennials hate George W. Bush?

A new book by a political science professor, based on a national survey of 1,100 college students conducted over a three-year period, suggests it could have something to do with Harry Potter.

According to Anthony Gierzynski's "Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation," readers of J.K. Rowling's seven-book series — and viewers of the movie franchise based on them — tend to be "more open to diversity; politically tolerant; less authoritarian; less likely to support the use of deadly force or torture; more politically active; and are more likely to have a negative view of the Bush administration."

A staggering 83 percent of respondents who read all of the Harry Potter books said they viewed the Bush administration unfavorably. And roughly 60 percent said they voted for Barack Obama in 2008, the first year most of them were old enough to vote.

When Bush left office in January 2009, 59 percent of Americans disliked him, according to Gallup. In June, however, the same poll showed 49 percent of Americans now view Bush as favorable, with 46 percent viewing him unfavorably.

According to Gierzynski, who teaches at the University of Vermont, the majority of the 1,100 students who took his survey were the same age as the characters in the series — or about 11 — in 1997, when the first Harry Potter book was released.

“Whether the book provided new perspectives or reinforced those already in their world," Gierzynski writes, "the deep immersion in the story and identification with the characters almost guaranteed an alignment of fans’ perspectives with those of the wizarding world, perspectives that would differentiate them from their nonfan peers." In other words, Harry Potter fans seem to be more socially tolerant — and liberal:

To test whether the acceptance of diversity by Harry and his friends mirrored that of readers, for example, respondents were asked how they felt about groups who have been subject to discrimination in the United States including Muslims, African Americans, undocumented immigrants and homosexuals. Respondents were asked to rate their feelings on a four-point “feeling thermometer” with zero being “very cold or unfavorable feeling” and four representing “100 degrees, very warm or favorable feeling.” After adding up each respondent’s total feeling scores toward all of the groups and comparing the results to non-fans, Gierzynski found that readers of all the books, as compared to the rest of the sample, evinced statistically significant warmer feelings toward the different groups.

It's entirely possible that the same Harry Potter fans would view the Obama administration, or any administration, unfavorably, too. And Gierzynksi acknowledges that it is "impossible to prove that the Harry Potter phenomenon caused fans to view politics in ways that reflect the lessons of the books."

"But," he concludes, "the results of the more rigorous statistical tests that we report on, as well as the words of millennials themselves on this issue, leave us confident that the story of the struggles of the wizarding world against Voldemort did indeed play an important role in the political development of many millennials.”