Sunday, July 22, 2007

Education Makes You Liberal, Income Makes You Conservative

As someone who would classify himself as a conservative, I was a little taken aback by Joe's post. I certainly don't think of myself or my political ideology as selfish or uncaring, but those are charges that conservatives have faced for years - just as liberals are charged with being weak on crime/defense/terror or having "tax and spend" policies. What intrigued me about Joe's post was the assertion that education makes a person more liberal. This implies that liberals must be right because they have more degrees and have studied the issues more than less educated individuals.

This made me wonder if the liberal/conservative divide is really an educated/uneducated divide. While there is definitely a correlation between education and politically moving left, there are a couple of other facts that come into play. First, while there is a statistical shift in ideology to the left as education increases, it by no means is large enough to account for the 18 to 1 disparity at Brown and the University of California system or the 26 to 1 disparity at Cornell. It is statistically ridiculous to say that education alone is responsible for these ratios. For data on the conservative/liberal divide in highly educated individuals, look at CNN's exit poll from 2004 here.

When it comes to the idea that being more liberal makes people more accepting of science, some caution is needed. While I agree that generally conservatives tend to be more willing to ignore science when it conflicts with religious or social beliefs, liberals - even very educated liberals - are not immune to this reaction. For example, Lawrence Summers, a former member of President Clinton's Cabinet and then president of Harvard, floated the hypothesis that some innate difference between men and women could be partly responsible for the fact that women don't currently end up in advanced math and science fields as often as men do. Summers clearly prefaced his statement with the comment that "This is a hypothesis" and "This may provoke you, but it is an area that needs research". The extremely liberal faculty at Harvard (and many other universities around the country) reacted with what can only be categorized as un-scientific immediate rejection of Summer's hypothesis. One MIT biologist left in the middle of Summer's remarks because if she hadn't left she said "I would have either blacked out or thrown up." While Summer's hypothesis is upsetting, the scientific response would be to test it, not reject it due to prior beliefs. The reactions from many liberals were reminiscent of my ultra-conservative grandma's rejection of human induced global warming 10 years ago without testing the theory at all. For more on this incident, look here and here.

The final point I'd like to bring up is that while there is a correlation between education and liberal political opinions, there is also a correlation between income and conservative political opinions (look here for more details). If the fact that being more educated makes one more liberal means that liberals are right, couldn't it also be argued that since conservatives make more money, that means they are more successful in the real world and therefore more in touch with practical problem solving?

The point is that I feel that political beliefs are just that: beliefs. While one can use science to rule out some beliefs, mainstream liberal and conservative philosophies (not individual actions) are fairly equally supported by rational thought. What it comes down to for me is a question of which side I feel does a better job of supporting morals and philosophies that coincide with my own.

1 comment:

  1. "What it comes down to for me is a question of which side I feel does a better job of supporting morals and philosophies that coincide with my own."

    I definitely agree with you there Nick. We have an obligation to stand up for what we fundamentally think is right and best for the United States of America.

    Also, Thank heaven's that there are lots of opinions that are heavily debated. As was discussed on the Daily Show, one of the hallmarks of President Lincoln is he had all the different sides represented in his cabinet so that he could make the best overall decisions for all of America.


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