Faculty Partisanship Favors Democrats 95:1

John David

CounterCurrent: Week of 2/16

The political left has dominated American higher education for many decades. Indeed, the faculty and staff of colleges and universities have grown increasingly progressive since the 1920s, with no sign of slowing down. Many have investigated the reasons for this trend, but to date, most research concerning faculty political affiliation has examined the issue on a national scale. However, in order to uncover systematic differences that contribute to local variation, we must analyze affiliation rates among types of professors, schools, fields, and regions, as well as relations among the differences in rates.

In this week’s featured article, Professors Mitchell Langbert of Brooklyn College and Sean Stevens of NYU do just that in a new study titled Partisan Registration and Contributions of Faculty in Flagship Colleges. For their sample, they use the top-two public and top-two private institutions in 30 states and the District of Columbia, states which are determined to have reliable affiliation data. Within these institutions, Langbert and Stevens analyze the partisan registration rates and federal contributions of faculty from a variety of departments using publicly-available voter registration and FEC data.

One key question motivating the study relates to partisan influence: Does partisan affiliation by state influence the rates of affiliation among professors? According to this study, the answer is a resounding yes. Few will find this shocking. However, a “chicken-and-egg” follow-up question remains: Is this influence due to public choice, whereby schools whose politics match the state tend to be successful, or selection, whereby professors are hired because they live nearby and are therefore more likely to be politically-aligned with the school? The answer to this is less cut-and-dry and contains a combination of both.

Ultimately, the study finds that all categories of partisan registration and federal contribution favor Democrats. The overall rate is 95:1. That is, among professors not registered to vote, professors who are registered but not affiliated with a party, Democratic-registered professors, and even Republican-registered professors, rates of contributions to federal candidates strongly favor Democrats. These results reveal a startling level of ideological homogeneity that does not bode well for the future of higher education.

Langbert and Stevens conclude with reform recommendations based on their findings. Because much of higher education’s political influence evolves from the structure of academic fields and the political atmospheres of states, college funding processes may need to be restructured so that the public-choice factors influencing affiliation rates are defanged. In addition, they argue that market forces ought to be introduced into the field, such that competitors to the current education establishment are able to vie for students and funding. 

NAS applauds Professors Langbert and Stevens for their continual research in pursuit of intellectual diversity within higher education.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Administrative Associate John David. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Public Domain

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