Why Professors Tilt Left

Over at the Agora, they're running through another round of "why-oh-why are all universities so lefty", this time with an assist from Howard Kurtz:

"[c]ollege faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiratorial conservatives might have imagined." 72 percent of college faculty describe themselves as "liberal," with only 15 percent labeling themself "conservative." 50 percent identified themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans. Disparity at so-called "elite" schools, it seems, is even more pronounced. The report offers percentage views on specific issues as well. The study was conducted by professors at the University of Toronto based on a survey of 1,643 full-time faculty at 183 four-year schools. It was funded by the Randolph Foundation, a right-leaning group.

So in places where intelligent, informed people work, many of them turn out to be liberal. At the places the most intelligent and informed people work, even more of them turn out to be liberal. And so we scratch our heads and wonder about bias? Why?

Political ideology, unlike gender or race, isn't encoded in your genes. You're not born with a certain leaning, ejected from the womb with a partisan affiliation. And while the opinions of your parents are often bequeathed unto the kids, they're not inviolable, as evidence by Kerry's far-greater vote share among the young (if it was just about the parents, each generation should mirror the one before it).

Moreover, glance around the blogosphere, particularly the rightmost end of it. Where, on the left, most everyone is a proud Democrat, the right is fairly littered with libertarians. Indeed, many of the right-leaning academics, when the election forced them to choose, ended up with Kerry rather than Bush. That's not because Dan Drezner or David Adesnik are raging progressives, but because they found the president a bit bankrupt in the thought department.

So really, why fight it? We keep finding that academia swings left, those with post-graduate work overwhelmingly backed Kerry...it's time to stop the head-scratching. Being a libertarian is perfectly fine, as is being an economic conservative and a neocon. But the weird merging of the Christian Right, the Neocons, and Karl Rove's theories that's currently directing the Republican party makes no sense at all. It's an administration where the President believe the "jury's still out" on how the earth was formed and the Senate Majority Leader -- a trained doctor! -- thinks AIDS can be transmitted through tears (to say nothing of the House Majority Leader who couldn't go to Vietnam because those damn minorities had gobbled up all the spots).

And so people who care about their party making sense shy away from Bush. Sometimes they find more elements of their beliefs in him than in the Democrats, and so they pull the lever for the "R", but the more that intellectual coherence matters, the less they make that bargain. And so as you climb up the rungs of academia, where internal coherency and intellectual rigor become values to live and die by, you find fewer Republicans. Simple as that.

Update: In response to Michael and some of the comments, I should clarify that I don't believe liberals are necessarily smarter than conservatives -- I've met some morons and geniuses among both breeds. What I do believe, or am at least considering, is that the heavy consumption of information tilts consumers towards the liberal end of things. To rephrase, you could be brilliant but not particularly informed and carry on with your biases intact. But if you're reading the papers and thinking critically about the massive deficit, the lack of WMD's, the nomination of John Bolton, the insane prioritization of Social Security over Medicare, our president's distaste for reading the news, the fiscal absurdity of his tax cuts, the pro-torture bent of his underlings, and so forth, I think it'd swing you hard left. That's not true for everyone and, crucially, it's not true of all Republican administrations, but it is accurate when restricted to Bush 43.

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