Paul Krugman wrote a really interesting article that I have a couple of things to add to, Academics and Politics. Now we all know the old complaint that college professors are liberal. And it is largely true. Should this concern us? Only if it should concern us that most people on Wall Street are conservative. People who gravitate toward knowledge as an end in itself will understandably lean left. It isn’t a conspiracy.
More and more, I believe that political orientation is really about culture. Being a conservative is really not about particular policies but about an outlook on life. This is something I’ve noticed from countless conversations with conservatives where we are very much in agreement about most things — especially economics. When I was in the academy, the conservatives I knew were like I was at the time: libertarian oriented — not wanting to have government interference. They were generally radically liberal on social issues.
But as liberal as the academy may have traditionally been, it has gotten much more so over the last 25 years. As you can see in the following graph taken from the Higher Education Research Institute, in 1990, roughly 40% of college faculty called themselves liberal and an equal number called themselves moderates. Roughly 20% called themselves conservatives. Today, 60% call themselves liberal, less then 30% call themselves moderates, and only 10% call themselves conservatives.
Krugman’s idea is the obvious one: the academy didn’t get more liberal, the conservatives got more conservative. He also mentioned the Republican Party’s general dismissal of global warming and evolution by natural selection. I would go further. The Republican Party is anti-intellectual. What’s more, they think the only purpose of education is to create a better workforce for IBM and GM. They don’t even think education is a matter of creating good citizens. Look at how common the desire is to eliminate the Department of Education. They want education to be controlled locally so that, among other things, students can be taught that African slaves were “immigrants.”
There is one bit of data presented by Krugman that is startling. If you look at the general population, 35% are Republicans or lean Republican, and 52% are similarly inclined toward the Democrats. For science professors, the numbers are 12% for Republicans and 81% for Democrats. But if you think about it for a moment, it isn’t surprising. Nor is it surprising that this trend started around the time that Bill Clinton became president. What does the Republican Party stand for? Any good ideas that it once had have been co-opted by the Democrats. We now have a moderate party and a proto-fascist party. It isn’t surprising that well informed people would skew heavily toward the Democrats.
But here’s something that a person of Krugman’s stature can’t say: it’s also about intelligence. Republicans love to publish books about what idiots liberals are. They’re compensating. They know that the more education and knowledge a person has, the more liberal they become. This causes conservatives to say things like a comment I recently got, “You’re what my father always called an educated idiot.” That was the extent of his argument. I was wrong just because and all my book learning didn’t mean a thing to him because he thought with his gut.
I think there are actual issues that liberals and conservatives can debate. But in this country, there really aren’t. The conservative movement has gone off the rails. So it’s hard for people who think for a living to miss this fact. Republican economic policy is wrong. Sure, you can find intelligent analysis from Greg Mankiw, but what Republicans want to do is the same thing they’ve done for four decades now and it never works as advertised. Republicans are simply wrong about global warming. Republicans are wrong about foreign policy. These aren’t opinions; these are factual claims. And on foreign policy, even they know they are wrong, because they talk tough, but when pressed, they admit that they would do nothing different from what the Democrats would do.
If we had the Republican Party of the early 1970s, I can see intelligent people differing over policy. But today, there are only three reasons to be a Republican. First, you might be stupid and ignorant. Second, you might be a hateful bigot. Third, you might be rich. That’s it. It isn’t surprising that PhD physicists skew heavily toward the Democratic Party.
I haven’t read the study, so I can’t say. Another factor could be that colleges are using so many more adjuncts, who get paid next to nothing. Poor people skew liberal as well. I suspect if you polled college administrators, you would find that they are far more conservative.