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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Those Stupid Conservatives

I'm sure glad I've re-registered as a democrat. I've apparently gained many IQ points just by doing so. At first blush, the evidence is overwhelming. For example, wondering why anybody would vote for conservatives (such as Bush), Neal Starkman writes in the Seattle Pi:
The answer, I'm afraid, is the factor that dare not speak its name. It's the factor that no one talks about. The pollsters don't ask it, the media don't report it, the voters don't discuss it.

I, however, will blare out its name so that at last people can address the issue and perhaps adopt strategies to overcome it.

It's the "Stupid factor," the S factor: Some people -- sometimes through no fault of their own -- are just not very bright.
And his "modest suggestions" for fixing the problem (of voting for conservatives):
But I do have some modest suggestions that might provide a start for discussion: an intelligence test to earn the right to vote; a three-significantly-stupid-behaviors-and-you're-out law; fines for politicians who pander to the lowest common denominator and deportation of media representatives who perpetuate such actions.
Now that I'm a Democrat I'd probably pass the intelligence test. However, I've certainly done more than three stupid things in my life so I guess I'd lose out there. Of course, it might still be worth it since we'd get huge amounts of money back from virtually every politician for pandering and we'd get rid of the vast majority of the media as well.

But it's not only random columnists who understand the conservatives are dumber than liberals. Recently, several faculty members from Duke University put forth snippets that also support the stupid conservative assertion. For example, in response to an article by John Leo from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Lawrence Evans, a Duke University Professor wrote:
So John Leo and the (oh so diverse!) American Enterprise Institute think there is insufficient diversity of political affiliation among university faculty. Their poll numbers show that Republicans are a small minority of the professoriate. True, and rightly so.

In seeking faculty, universities look for people who can analyze and discuss matters of some complexity, who are unafraid to challenge the wisdom of simple solutions, and who have a sense of social responsibility toward those who cannot buy influence. Such people tend to be put off by a political party dominated by those who believe dogmatically in the infallibility of the marketplace as a solution to all economic problems, or else in the infallibility of scripture as a guide to morality.

In short, universities want people of some depth, subtlety and intelligence. People like that usually vote for the Democrats. So what?"
And this agrees with Robert Brandon, another Duke Professor, who wrote:
Some argued that the political imbalance within the humanities departments is to be expected, and in no way reflects the University's lack of commitment to true intellectual diversity.

We try to hire the best, smartest people available," Brandon said of his philosophy hires. "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.

Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too.
Brandon took some heat for his statements (he claimed that he was just trying to be humorous), and later defended his statement by questioning:
The serious and interesting issue is how do we explain the surplus of liberals in seems to me that the only viable hypothesis left is something like the following: There is a statistical association between the qualities that make for good academics and those that lead to left-leaning political views...stated this way the hypothesis still remains incredibly vague. What qualities, what traits are we talking about? What causal relations underlie these statistical associations? These questions are worth exploring, but I think the hypothesis is right headed."
Clearly, the faculty at Duke are going to be more intelligent than average and it might possibly seem that being intelligent would lead one to be a Democrat. But, according to Professor Jim Lindgren, the statistics don't support that "causal relation:"
Yet Republicans in the general public tend to be better educated than Democrats. In the 1994-2002 General Social Surveys (GSS), Republicans have over 6/10ths of a year more education on average than Democrats. Republicans also have a higher final mean educational degree. Further, Republicans scored better than Democrats on two word tests in the GSS--a short vocabulary test and a modified analogies test.

If one breaks down the data by party affiliation and political orientation, the most highly educated group is conservative Republicans, who also score highest on the vocabulary and analogical reasoning tests. Liberal Democrats score only insignificantly lower than conservative Republicans. The least educated subgroups are moderate and conservative Democrats, who also score at the bottom (or very near the bottom) on vocabulary and analogy tests.
Okay, great. I'm now a Democrat, and clearly a moderate or conservative one. I guess I just got dumber instead of smarter by re-registering as a Democrat.

So if raw intellect isn't the "trait" which causes faculty members at Duke to be both academics and Democrats, what are some other hypotheses? Arnold Kling, an economist (Ph.D. from MIT), has an alternate explanation:
Another way of describing political alignment is in terms of freedom and responsibility. How much freedom should people have to pursue their own interests and desires? How much responsibility should they have for their own well-being?

The conservative ideology favors individual responsibility. However, conservatives see a need to protect the culture from behavior that runs counter to conventional morals. In that sense, conservatives are willing to restrict freedom.

The left takes the opposite point of view. Modern liberals see no reason to restrict individual freedom. However, they view people with inadequate health care or education as victims who should not be held responsible for their condition. [...]

People with certain traits tend to choose particular occupations. Someone who is afraid of heights is unlikely to become a firefighter. Someone who is repelled by the sight of blood is unlikely to become a doctor. Someone who is impatient with details is unlikely to become a bookkeeper.

A fancy term for this is "self-selection." We say that people select activities and occupations that are suited to their temperaments.

If your temperament favors freedom without responsibility, then there are certain occupations that are a good fit. Academic life is one of them, as I pointed out in Real World 101. A professor has very little of what most of us would consider responsibility. Teaching, which is the most responsible activity that a professor must perform, is considered a minor part of the academic's life. Almost all professors seek to lower these modest responsibilities even further by seeking reduced teaching loads. [...]

When we see leftist ideology statistically predominant among college professors, news reporters, or open-source software advocates, what we are seeing is self selection. What Richard Florida dubbed The Creative Class is a self-selected group that seeks freedom without responsibility in their professional lives. Thus, we should not be surprised that their ideological bent is toward modern liberalism, which translates this personal preference into a political platform.
While I don't buy Kling's concept as the one and only explanation for leftist bias in the academic world, it is certainly interesting and may be part of the explanation. I'm wondering what Tom Drake, our token Great Guy/Academic thinks of this explanation?

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