(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

America’s top universities are bastions of liberalism. That general idea probably won’t surprise many people, but the numbers behind it might.

An article recently published in Econ Journal Watch draws on original data to show just how liberal the United States' universities have become. The researchers looked at a subscription-only online database that shows how vast numbers of Americans are registered in the 30 states that share this kind of information. They examine the ratio of Democrats and Republicans among tenure-track in five academic fields — economics, history, journalism/communications, law and psychology — at 40 top American universities. (Some of the nation’s top universities, such as the University of Chicago, Rice University and the University of Notre Dame, are excluded from the list because their states don’t release voter registration information.)

The paper finds that liberals dominate these academic fields, as past research has indicated. However, Democratic-to-Republican ratios prove to be even higher than the researchers had thought, particularly in economics and history. Of the 7,243 professors they researched, 3,623 were registered Democratic and only 314 were registered Republicans. The more prestigious the university, the more liberal its faculty tended to be.

History and journalism/communications were by far the most liberal departments they looked at, as the chart below shows. Economics was the most balanced, but still had more than four times as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

Their findings also suggest that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans among humanities and social science faculty has risen in the past decade. Past research indicated the ratio in social sciences was perhaps 3.5 to 1 in 1970, rising to 8 to 1 in 2004 and 10 to 1 in 2016. The researchers also find that the ratio of registered Democrats to registered Republicans is higher among young professors, suggesting that universities will continue to become more liberal over time.

The researchers are far from politically agnostic. Two of the three are registered Republicans, and they say they oppose the Democratic tendency toward greater economic regulation, the expansion of the welfare state, the closer regulation of firearms and other “nanny-state personal choice issues.”

“Between the two horrible parties, when push comes to shove, we will usually favor the Republican over the Democrat,” they write of their own views.

They also caution that these measures aren’t perfect. Some of these universities lack graduate programs in the fields the researchers are investigating. Furthermore, major research universities tend to be in “blue” states, and blue states are more likely than red states to have laws that make voter information more available, which likely skews their data.

Still, their findings point in one undeniable direction. In many departments, in fact, especially history and journalism, they found no registered Republicans at all. In 72 out of 170 departments they looked at, the number of professors registered to either the Green Party or the Working Families Party equaled or exceeded the number of registered Republicans.



Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology. Mitchell Langbert, Anthony J. Quain, and Daniel B. Klein

“The reality is that in most humanities/social-science fields a Republican is a rare bird,” they write.

The researchers argue that these trends result both from the top-down selection of new professors — since current professors determine new hires through consensus — and through the bottom-up choices that young people make about their careers. “Non-leftists naturally tend to select themselves out of academia,” the researchers write.

However the ivory tower’s lean to the left occurred, the trend is unfortunate, the researchers say. There’s the risk that hiring like-minded people could lead to group-think, where collective pressures result in faulty decisions. And the quality of work produced by academic institutions is likely to be more rigorous when it comes from researchers with a variety of underlying beliefs and experiences.

“Even if we regarded the two parties as equally bad, we would see great value in more balance between them,” they write.

 

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