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  • Writer's pictureCorey Lee Wilson

Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law and Psychology

Recently, Mitchell Langbert, Anthony Quain, and Daniel Klein published their findings on faculty voter registration in the fields of economics, history, journalism, law, and psychology. Their work is now the most recent snapshot we have of the politics of American professors. This blog post briefly summarizes their methodology, findings, and conclusions.

To explore the politics of faculty members in the United States, Langbert, Quain, and Klein obtained the voter registrations of all faculty in five kinds of departments at 40 leading universities. Voter registration is public information and was obtained in this study through the Aristotle database. Due to differences in state policy over the storage of voter registration in a database such as Aristotle, their analysis was limited to universities within 30 states. Nonetheless, check out these disturbing findings:

• Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the academic departments of Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology. In most cases the discrepancies were higher than previously reported (see Klein & Stern, 2005; Klein & Stern, 2009).

• The discrepancy was lowest for Economics departments (4.5:1) and highest for History departments (33.5:1).

• A good number of departments have no registered Republicans.

• Discrepancies are higher at more prestigious universities.

• Assistant professors are least likely to be Republicans; thus, discrepancies are lower among older professors and among higher-ranked professors.

• Consistent with the findings of Abrams, discrepancies were higher at universities in New England.

• The overall ratio across all departments was roughly 10 Democrats to 1 Republican.

• In total, Langbert et al. looked up the voter registration of 7,243 professors. They found 3,623 registered Democrats and 314 Republicans.

Increased Discrepancy Due to These Specific Mechanisms in Academia

Langbert et al. finds the overall ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans has increased over time, from roughly 3.5:1 in 1970 to roughly 8:1 in 2004 to roughly 10:1 in 2016. They further suggest that one of the reasons for this increased discrepancy may be due to three specific mechanisms present in academia:

1. Sacred values are likely to impact a given professor’s political outlook. Typically, these values cannot be divorced from that professor’s scholarship and may impact what is considered a worthy topic of study, what methods to employ in one’s investigation, and how one interprets their findings. The role of sacred values makes groupthink theory applicable to the professoriate.

2. Academia is made up of distinct disciplinary pyramids that are sustained as departments within a university. The apex of these pyramids consists of the top departments for a given discipline. These departments typically produce most of the Ph.D.’s and then subsequently place those Ph.D.’s in other top departments.

3. The success of an individual research career is linked to one’s department. The members of a department vote on who to hire, how much to pay that hire, and ultimately whether that new hire, if they accept the job, will be promoted, and receive tenure.

“Once the apex of the disciplinary pyramid becomes predominantly left leaning, it will sweep left-leaners into positions throughout the pyramid (or, at least, it will exclude vibrant dissenters). At the micro level of a particular university department – no matter where in the pyramid – once it has a majority of left leaners, it will, in serving, enjoying, protecting, advancing, and purifying sacred values, tend to hire more left leaners (or at least not vibrant dissenters)” (Langbert et al., 2016, p. 428).

The increasing sweep of left-leaners into positions throughout the pyramid is evident when, on the one hand, one considers that only 10 universities had an overall ratio of Democrat to Republican of less than 9:1. On the other hand, 14 universities had an overall ratio of Democrat to Republican of greater than 20:1.

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