T Nation

Something to Chew On


I'm not trying to imply anything at all with this -- I just find it interesting. Also, please, do not take this as an insult if you are a moderate Democrat. This is general information, and not specifically relevant to you. This was posted by Professor Glenn H. Reynolds at www.instapundit.com:

STUPID PEOPLE: Prof. Robert Brandon, chair of the Philosophy Department at Duke, defended http://www.chronicle.duke.edu/vnews/display.v/ART/2004/02/10/4028d1724320b/?template=default his department's lack of intellectual diversity by quoting John Stuart Mill to the effect that conservatives are disproportionately stupid, and hence naturally underrepresented in academia.

Eugene Volokh points out that Brandon was misrepresenting Mill. http://volokh.com/2004_02_08_volokh_archive.html Volokh: "If some liberal professors (who are probably pretty far from 1860s Liberals) want to express their contempt for conservatives (who are probably pretty far from 1860s Conservatives), then it seems to me that they shouldn't call on John Stuart Mill to support their prejudices." Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Prof. Jim Lindgren, law professor at Northwestern University and director of the Demography of Diversity Project, is doing empirical research on conservatives and liberals in academia, and has some thoughts.

Lindgren writes:
The article in the Duke Chronicle http://www.chronicle.duke.edu/vnews/display.v/ART/2004/02/10/4028d1724320b/?template=default is interesting on the implications of a survey of faculty voter registration, which purports to show that across several Duke departments 142 faculty are registered as Democrats, compared to only 8 Republicans. Some Duke faculty members suggest that it makes little difference, since they are comfortable with the level of intellectual diversity at Duke.

Yet consider a thought experiment: imagine that the numbers were reversed and Duke's faculty in the humanities or social sciences had 17 times more Republicans than Democrats. Would the education, research, and mentoring still be broad enough to make the existing Duke faculty feel that viewpoint diversity was not a problem? I doubt it.

The most questionable explanation in the article is that of Duke philosophy chair, Robert Brandon:
"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."

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.

The irony here is that if there were substantial numbers of Republican political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists at Duke and other elite schools, Professor Brandon might already know that in the United States, the two most similar groups in educational attainment and verbal proficiency are liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans--and that ordinary, non-liberal Democrats are among the least educated political groups.

Interesting. It's no doubt embarrassing for a professor of philosophy to be so corrected by two law professors.


BTW, although it's not stated, the implication is also that moderate Republicans tend to not be as smart as Liberal Democrats.

Also, I think this captures what annoys me somewhat about the lionization of the "undecideds" or the "moderates." I think that, for the most part, the undecideds and moderates tend to be those who have not looked at the issues long enough to form an opinion. I think that is what is captured in these numbers more than anything -- the people who care enough to have a strong opinion one way or the other tend to be more educated and more intelligent. That's just my hypothesis.



John Stuart Mill was a lunatic.



I cannot comment on the intellectual skills of the members of either political party. However, for this point of view to have any degree of accuracy, you have to presume that education level and higher scores on a short vocabulary test and a modified analogies test= higher intelligence. I am not convinced that any of those variables actually measure intelligence.


what is a democrat?

what is a republican?

which one does bush represent?

Do americans talk in terms of left vs right wing?

Sorry if you think the questions are stupid, i am just not familiar with american political jargon.


"the people who care enough to have a strong opinion one way or the other tend to be more educated and more intelligent."

I agree with this. People who say they aren't Republicans or Democrats, or that they "vote for the best candidate", drive me crazy.

We have a two party system. You know where each stands on the issues. How can you not pick sides?


It's easy ot not pick sides. I'm pro gun ownership rights and pro abortion rights. I like some things from each party, although less on the Democratic side.

So then it comes down to issues, what's on the front burner, if it's a local or national race.

For example we have a Democrat in our state that is pro gun rights. At the local level that will fly, at the national level she'd get squashed by the party hard liners.


Actually, ind, as far as it goes, certain types of vocabulary tests are thought to most closely approximate the so-called general intelligence, or, "g" factor. Much more so anyway than math or other sections of tests. To the extent it is a measureable quantity, things such as the analogies section of the SAT are the best approximation.



Here are some overly generalized, short answers to your questions:

what is a democrat? Someone who is liberal on social issues and believes in raising taxes to fund government services/redistribution programs, although generally minimizes defense spending as a national priority.

what is a republican? Someone who is conservative on social issues and generally against governmental spending on many social programs, but thinks defense spending should be prioritized over other government spending. Also generally against high taxes.

which one does bush represent? Republican, although he spends a lot on non-defense government programs.

Do americans talk in terms of left vs right wing? Yes. Generally used pejoritively. Democrats are generalized as left wing, and Republicans as right wing.

Sorry if you think the questions are stupid, i am just not familiar with american political jargon.


Steely --

In one sense, you are agreeing with my hypothesis, but saying it should be issue specific rather than put under the rubric of "liberal Democrat" or "Conservative Republican." I think you're right -- I think the study would be more precise if it focused on those with strong opinions on an issue-by-issue basis.



I realize that this will be farther off topic, but here goes.

I completely disagree. The SAT is barely correlated with intelligence. Moreover, the notion of Spearman's 'g' actually has very little to do with the vocab or analogy tests that were administered in the GSS.

I think we would both agree that there is a chasm between measuring intelligence and "closely approximating" it.

As far as your hypothesis that
"the people who care enough to have a strong opinion one way or the other tend to be more educated and more intelligent", again I disagree. Having a strong opinion is in no way connected to intelligence. You mean to tell me you've never participated in a conversation with someone who clearly is an idiot, but continues to stick to their opinion?!?! If you listen to the radio or watch TV for 5 minutes and this is all you really see.



I believe if you feel the need to label yourself either "liberal" or "conservative", then you define yourself pretty narrowly. People should have an independent opinion on each and every issue which does'nt first have to be run through the filter of "conservative" or "liberal" ideology. I've never understood this understood the need of americans to align themselves so strongly to one party or the other. It happens here in Canada, but not nearly with the same strenght of conviction or extent.


Intelligence really isn't the relevant criteria. It's the differences in world view.

For example: the reason the Republicans hold power in this country isn't that they are smarter, but that they have a much more narrow ideological focus. Democrats hold much more varied perspectives, so getting several million of them to agree on anything (other than that Bush needs to be defeated) is difficult.

For a deeper understanding, take a look at Spiral Dynamics by Beck & Cowan, or get a brief overview from the Spiral Dynamics web page.



I have never really understood the "liberal" vs "conservative" labels as applied to a political party. What's wrong with just voting for the person who best agrees with your ideals? Way too many people just vote the party line without giving a thought to the candidate's values. "Well, he's a republicat, so he must be who I'm voting for." I actually heard first hand a comment similar to that during the last election here. Scary.

I'm pretty fiscally conservative and moderate to liberal on social issues. (Which I guess would make Little Bush the anti-Christ, eh?) In 2002 the republicats pushed a jackass as the candidate for governor here, but this state is roughly 70-80% republicat, so he's a shoe-in, right? No, the democran candidate was a moderate and a much better man, and he won in a landslide. (Although I pesonally know some people who didn't vote at all because they didn't like the republicat but didn't think they should vote across party lines. Frighteningly stupid, I think.)

But now all of those republicats who voted for the dem are tree-hugging, anti-war, anti-gun, raise-your-taxes-to-pay-welfare, baby killing liberals, right?

The party leadership relies on the blatant stupidity of the average voter to believe whatever the right-wing wind-bag radio yackers tell them. They know that if people really started to think for themselves and vote for the person instead of the party affiliation, they might be out of a cushy 6-figure job. Can't let that happen, so keep feeding the sheeple.


Sheeple....Mind if I use that one?



ind --

I think we're talking around each other. I assumed the GSS tests were similar to the SAT analogies, which may have been incorrect. However, when you argue that the whole SAT barely correlates to intelligence, you aren't addressing what I said: the analogies of the SAT correlate fairly well with the "g". This would not mean the overall test does the same, especially with such segments as arithmetic included.

And you're right -- we can agree with the idea that intelligence is different from a measure approximating it. But, given we're looking at a measure attempting to approximate it, we have to judge how well it does. If those tests are like the SAT analogies, I stand by what I said.

Now, as to my hypothesis. I was making a general hypothesis. Your example, while certainly true, does not relate to whether the hypothesis would be generally true. It just means it wouldn't be true all the time -- which is understood for a generalization. Certain people will hold strong beliefs based on nothing but emotion or first impression -- or nothing but the little (R) or (D) next to a name. Those are not the people I had in mind. And I think the numbers in the study, if they are correct, bear out what I had in mind: namely, people with strong beliefs because they actually have put thought into the issue at hand, or at least the philosophy and worldview behind a general position.

To touch on your example again though, even the fact that you have 2 people bloviating on television without listening to each other does not mean that each respective person hasn't put thought into his position. It merely means he isn't good at listening and playing with others, and probably flunked kindergarten. However, just because someone is an annoying blowhard doesn't mean he has not considered his position.



They're two separate categories. While they tend to correlate, they're separate. And more importantly, they're generalizations. Of course they won't hold in every particular case.

As to voting the party line, it actually makes a lot of sense in situations in which you don't have a huge preference -- and, depending on the office, even in some cases in which you do.

It has to do with whether the person you vote for would tend to vote independently or toe the party line as it were. If you agree a lot more with one platform than the other, and care a lot about the major platform issues, it isn't being a "sheep" to vote the party line. Especially in the case where you don't have a defined preference, or don't care a lot about the areas in which the candidates differ most.

This is especially true if you're talking about Congress, in which case you're not only voting for an individual, but your voting to put one party or the other in the majority. Being in the majority gives a party the chance to set the agenda most of the time, which is major of you agree with a party's platform - or even several big items on a platform.

Suffice it to say, while it may look like "sheeple" oftentime party-line voting is quite rational.