Education and Ideology in America
In the American electorate as a whole, there are approximately 1.2 Democrats for every Republican. Large numbers of voters are Independents (about 40%). There are significant differences related to gender and ethnicity. 39% of women, but only 26% of men, are Democrats. The ratio of Democrats to Republicans among American women is about 1.4:1. 70% of African-Americans and 47% of Hispanic Americans are Democrats, but only 26% of white Americans. The Democrat:Republican ratio among African-Americans is about 23:1.
Among those with at least a Bachelor’s degree, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 1.33:1. As college graduates have become more diverse, they have shifted toward the Democratic party. Not very long ago, Republicans outnumbered Democrats among college graduates. In 1994, there were 54 Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents for every 38 Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents among college graduates. Today that ratio is almost exactly reversed. There are 54 Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents for every 42 Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents.
What is even more striking, however, is the partisan makeup of university professors. In a study published last year, 12,372 college professors were sampled. The Democrat:Republican ratio was found to be 8.5:1. Among biologists the ratio was found to be 9.4:1. Among anthropologists an incredible 42.2:1. Even among economists the ratio was 3.0:1. Not a single field was found to have a preponderance of Republicans, or even anything close to that.
Among male professors, the ratio was 6.4:1. 6 Democrats to every 1 Republican! Keep in mind that among men in America generally, there is a slight Republican advantage (about 1.2:1). Among female professors, the Democrat:Republican ratio is 16.4:1. As I have noted above for American women generally, the ratio is only about 1.4:1.
For highly ranked schools, the ratios are even more extreme. At Princeton, for example (ranked number 1), the ratio is 40:1. At Yale (ranked number 4), 31.3:1. At Harvard (ranked number 2), 88:1. At the highly influential Georgetown University in the nation’s capital, not one of the 75 professors surveyed was a Republican! The most extreme ratios tend to be in the Northeast, but even in the South, Democratic professors tend to greatly outnumber Republicans. At the University of Florida, the ratio is 10.7:1. At LSU, 8.7:1. At the University of North Carolina, 48:1. There is a unmistakable relationship between the ranking of schools and the prevalence of Democrats amongst their faculty. Ever heard of Augustana College? Me neither. It’s ranked number 96. Its ratio is 3.2:1. The prevalence of Democrats among highly-ranked schools is even higher than that among historically black schools, with predominantly African-American faculties. The faculty of Howard University, for example, is 57% African-American. Yet the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is only 29.5:1, less than that of Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. 68% of the faculty of Harvard is white. Nationally, well over 70% of college faculty are white. Why is it that college professors lean so strongly Democratic?
The truth is that this is not a recent phenomenon. Since the Second World War, there has been a preponderance of liberal-leaners among college faculty. It is no accident that the countercultural movements of the 1960’s largely originated at universities. Prior to 1960, college was a destination for only a few privileged intellectuals. In 1960, only 7.7% of Americans 25 years and older had a least 4 years of college. A study published in 1958 argued that the academic mind is by nature critical and probing, a fact that leads professors to be suspicious of calls to preserve the current social order at all cost. A later study, published in 1976, argued that criticism is the natural posture of the intellectual. An attachment to tradition for its own sake is simply not compatible with this.
The baby boomer generation was the first to go to college in large numbers. By 1980, the percentage of Americans 25 years and older with at least 4 years of college had risen to 17%. By 2000 that number had risen to 26%. Today it stands at about 35%. College students and faculty have become much more diverse. Whereas white males constituted about 52% of all college students in 1970, today that number is only about 24%. A college student inevitably comes into contact with people of varying backgrounds and perspectives. This in itself is often enough to kill parochialism. American grade schools are hardly places where academic freedom reigns. They primarily engage in socialization and avoid controversy. Academic freedom is constantly under attack, often successfully, from conservative parents and organizations. Since college is not compulsory, colleges are largely shielded from such attacks.
The argument has been made that intellectualism does not necessarily lead to liberalism. After all, many high-ranking Nazis were intellectuals. Some very conservative Americans are intellectuals. This is true as far as it goes. Human beings have an almost infinite capacity to rationalize. Ideology can blind you to inescapable realities. Yet the trajectory of history is unmistakable. Many universities, particularly the older ones, started their lives as religious institutions. College professors were expected to defend orthodox views on religious and political matters. In the late 19th century, the demand for research changed that. A rapid process of secularization began. Professors were increasingly expected to advance the pursuit of knowledge rather than spout religious doctrine. Clashes between these academics and those who controlled the purse strings lead to a mobilization in the early 20th century to demand academic freedom. The result of all of this has been increasing liberalization in the academic world, just as it has happened in America as a whole. There is greater religious tolerance, less racism, less sexism.
The thing is, getting things done in the real world requires an unflinching commitment to reality. And contrary to popular perception, high-powered universities are quite involved in solutions to real world problems. Real science and real engineering come out of them. The advanced technologies that most Americans take for granted come from them. The unwillingness of such institutions to tolerate ideology-based rationalization is exactly why a number of “think tanks” sprung into existence in the 1970’s, such as the Heritage Foundation, created by Paul Weyrich and Joseph Coors. These largely replaced thoughtful, non-partisan research (such as that conducted by much older organizations like the Brookings Institution) with thinly veiled ideological advocacy, and actively pursued connections to mass media. These think tanks are often well-funded and highly influential in American politics.
The contrast between the political positions of college professors and those of the average American is striking. In a study of 1417 American professors, at 927 institutions, published in 2007, 69% of college professors reported that homosexuality was “not wrong at all.” Only 17% considered it to be “always wrong.” In a 2021 Gallup poll, 30% of Americans reported that they considered homosexuality to be morally wrong. 18% said it should be illegal! 75% of professors agreed that it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain an abortion for any reason. In a Gallup poll in 2021, only 32% of Americans reported that abortion should be legal in all cases. 56% of professors strongly disagreed with this statement: “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” Another 31% disagreed but not strongly. Only 4% strongly agreed. In a Pew poll in 2012, 51% of Americans reported their belief that children are better off with their mother at home.
Of course, it is quite possible to conduct real science and real engineering without having any opinion on abortion, homosexuality, or gender roles. In fact the Democrat:Republican ratio among chemistry professors is relatively low (4.5:1). But the problem is that an unflinching commitment to be guided by evidence and reason is fundamentally incompatible with what American conservatism demands. It demands an attachment to tradition for its own sake. The Heritage Foundation does much more than advocate for the free market and low taxes. It sees itself as defending traditional Christian values in public spaces, and this inevitably translates into positions on abortion, homosexuality, and gender roles. American conservatism is much more about culture than ideas per se.
Recently, economist Paul Krugman authored a NY Times editorial entitled “Only the Incompetent Need Apply.” He points out that self-promoting “experts” with half-baked ideas and bad predictions often achieve positions of authority in conservative think tanks and media outlets. A case in point is Stephen Moore, who has only a Master’s degree in economics. Wikipedia does not even describe him as an economist, but rather a “writer,” and a “television commentator.” He has never published a peer-reviewed paper in economics. He is a climate change denier and has advocated for getting rid of prohibitions on child labor. In 2018 he stated that the 2017 tax cuts were paying for themselves in government revenue, when in fact tax receipts were down 31%. Despite all of this, he is CHIEF economist (!) at the Heritage Foundation, and has written many columns for the Wall Street Journal and National Review.
Krugman, who has a Ph.D. in economics from M.I.T. and won a Nobel Prize in 2008, points out that this kind of incompetence is rampant among conservative “experts,” and that conservative ideology by its nature excludes unflinching commitment to evidence and reason. “Accepting evidence and logic is a sort of universal value, and you can’t take it away in one area of inquiry without degrading it across the board,” he writes. I think he’s right, and this explains why Republicans become increasingly rare on the faculties of the highest-ranked universities. Conservatives insist that tax cuts promote long-term economic growth. But the evidence is clear that this isn’t so. Conservatives insist that higher taxes and higher government spending inhibit economic growth. But the Heritage Foundation’s OWN DATA tell us that countries with greater prosperity tend to have higher taxes and higher government spending. Conservatives insist that climate change can’t be happening. But the scientific consensus is overwhelming. When you deny unmistakable evidence, you shouldn’t be surprised that you have a hard time getting a position at Harvard or Yale.
Even in the field of finance, where we would surely expect some economic conservatives at least, the faculties at colleges are dominated by Democrats. A recent study of 25 highly-ranked schools found an average Democrat:Republican ratio in finance of 4.62:1. At Harvard (ranked second in finance) the ratio was 10:1. At the University of Chicago (ranked third in finance), supposedly a bastion of conservative financial thought, the ratio was 9:1. What’s more, there are strong indications that the future will be even less hospitable to Republicans. Among faculty older than 65 years, the Democrat:Republican ratio was 3.1:1. As you move down the age brackets, the proportion of Republicans declines. For faculty aged 35 to 45, the ratio was 6.5:1. And for faculty 35 years old or less? Of 120 professors, not a single Republican was found. In finance!
America is becoming increasingly diverse and increasingly educated. The white population is expected to start declining within 3 years, and that decline will accelerate over the next 20 years as the baby boomers die out. Men will die out faster than women. Women, who tend to be considerably more liberal than men, have greatly increased their presence in the halls of power and will continue to do so. And higher education is increasingly devoid of conservatives. The Republican party seems to be relying on voter suppression to sustain itself. It won’t work.