Saturday, September 05, 2009

Elementary school teachers lean slightly to the right

President Obama's address to the nation's school children this Tuesday is unlikely to contain anything provocative, especially given the sharp criticism it has drawn. This gem from the Department of Education, intended to serve as companion list of classroom activities to accompany the speech, illustrates why the reaction has been so negative:
Teachers can extend learning by having students...

  • Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.
Obama's astute political move will be to offer saccharin encouragement to study hard, eat healthily, exercise regularly, etc, and then let the pols and pundits sympathetic to him ridicule those who protested for being hysterical nuts.

My reaction to this was that it is understandable why even so bland an insertion of Obama into elementary schools would be resisted by most people somewhere on the right side of the political spectrum. Even if the content of the address was ideologically unobjectionable in its entirety, getting teachers to lead classroom "discussions" revolving around contemporary politics would often result in an injection of their own personal views, putatively to the left of the larger public.

In turning to the GSS to gauge the political orientation of elementary school teachers, I expected to find evidence backing up this line of reasoning, based on surveys finding university academics to be overwhelmingly leftist (in addition to ample personal experience in college) and the surefire backing of Democratic political candidates by the NEA in virtually every election it involves itself in.

However, primary school teachers are far less politically distinguishable from the rest of the country than I assumed they were. The following table shows the partisan and political distributions of elementary school teachers (n = 304), college and university instructors (n = 105), and the country as a whole. For contemporary relevancy, only responses from 2000 onward are included:

Elementary teachers26.3%37.2%36.6%x42.4%13.2%44.4%
US population25.9%38.9%35.2%x44.1%19.9%35.9%

Primary school "teaching professionals" are less likely to fence sit than the broader public is. This comes as little surprise, as the estimated average IQ for elementary school teachers in the US is 107.4, nearly ten points higher than that of US residents as a whole, and moderates tend to be less intelligent than liberals and conservatives are. College and university instructors (estimated average IQ of at least 114.6 and very possibly half a standard deviation higher) further underscore this tendency. But unlike university instructors, elementary school teachers do not deviate much politically from the broader public.

Both measures of political persuasion are on a 7 point scale. Another way to gauge where elementary school teachers are relative to the broader population is to look at the mean value for each, where 1 is extremely liberal/Democratic, 4 is perfectly centrist, and 7 is extremely conservative/Republican. By partisan identification, the mean for elementary school teachers is 4.00, compared to 3.83 for the entire population (3.05 for college/university instructors). For political orientation, teachers average 4.20, to 4.15 for the whole country (3.10 for those teaching in colleges/universities). Again, elementary school teachers are quite similar to the general public and are actually marginally more right-leaning than the rest of the country is.

Parenthetically, I still empathize with those who oppose young children being subjected to directed messages from the President in a school setting, despite finding those who teach them to be more politically balanced than I expected.

GSS variables used: ISCO88(2310)(2331), POLVIEWS, PARTYID(0-6), YEAR(2000-2008)


The Undiscovered said...

Obama has really turned out to be a lame doofus, hasn't he, AE?

However, primary school teachers are far less politically distinguishable from the rest of the country than I assumed they were.

I was actually surprised that 23% of university instructors were Republican.

I would have assumed that number to be closer to 10%.

Btw, since higher IQ types tend to be more politically partisan, do the outnumberd and besieged conservative/Republican university intructors tend to be more deeply conservative than the general population of American Republicans/Conservatives?

Dave said...

That's interesting about elementary school teachers being more conservative. I guess it stands to reason. I don't really think people should have made a big deal out of the speech, but it's just a clumsy move on the part of the Obama administration. Maybe they're including different types of universities. I've seen some university instructors who are more or less libertarian, and maybe they're showing up as being Republican. I personally am an independent and tend to call the issues as I see them, even though I call a lot of issues in a certain way.

Stopped Clock said...

Wow, it's interesting to see that teachers actually get more conservative as the children they teach get littler. I would have thought the opposite, since the further down the grade levels you go the more the teachers tend to be female. But, maybe at least part of the reason is that there are few private schools for low grade levels (though there are some), so the Christian teachers who want to work with young kids end up working in public schools. And maybe there's something about conservatives in general thatm ake them more likely to want to work with kids (since they also tend to give birth to more kids than liberals do).

ironrailsironweights said...

Yet another example in which GSS figures show that the conventional wisdom is all wrong. It certainly would seem that elementary school teachers would be relatively liberal given that there's a substantial percentage of minorities in the field, plus it's also heavily unionized.


silly girl said...

Elementary teaching is more traditionally female because women have always been in charge of little kids. So it isn't surprising that there are many traditional women in a traditionally female job.

Since colleges have so many professors of nonsense, I would figure those nonsense fields are dominated by liberals. How many Republicans professors of ethnic studies, vs. business and accounting?

Anonymous said...

"it's interesting to see that teachers actually get more conservative as the children they teach get littler"

I'm not surprised. Elementary school teachers are basically institutionalized stay-at-home moms and dads.

Audacious Epigone said...


The GSS does not show college/university instructors to be as leftist as a pretty highly publicized study from 2005 did:

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

But that study only looked at 4-year schools. The GSS data includes those who teach at community colleges as well, who I presume are more moderate in their political views and degree of partisanship.

Also, I habitually include "independent, lean Democrat/Republican" as Democrat/Republican rather than independent.

If we only include those who consider themselves "not strongly Republican" and "strongly Republican", we get 17.4%.

Re: the question, no. Among college/university conservatives, 63% are slight cons, 31% cons, and 6% strong cons. Among the general population of self-described conservatives, it is 43%, 47%, and 11%, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, however, leftist post-secondary academicians are more firm in their liberalism than the general left is. For college/university instructors, 26% are slight libs, 56% libs, and 19% strong libs. For the total liberal population, it's 44%, 44%, and 12%, respectively.


Unfortunately, educational level of instruction is as specific as we can get with the GSS, and there is no libertarian option for political self-description--I wish one existed, especially for party identification, since "other" is an option in that case.


Yes, that's what I had assumed, but now that I think about it, I really don't have any personal experience with elementary school teachers (at least since I turned thirteen!), and SC's, SG's, and anon's explanations all strike me as plausible.

Silly girl,

The GSS doesn't get that specific. But the 2005 study referenced above offers some insight. You're on the mark:

The most liberal faculties are those devoted to the humanities (81 percent) and social sciences (75 percent), according to the study. But liberals outnumbered conservatives even among engineering faculty (51 percent to 19 percent) and business faculty (49 percent to 39 percent).

Dave said...

I thought they were more liberal. I must have heard something about that 2005 study. Some of the statistics I've heard in the past have sounded a bit extreme (about college professors being 99 percent liberal or something). Maybe those new statistics are closer to the reality and include, as a commenter said, non-4-yr. institutions.

Anonymous said...

Could you -imagine- the left's response if Reagan said he wanted to address all the kiddies as president via T.V. hookups in his first year in office?

They'd be accusing him of BigBrotherism and two-minute-hates and all that jazz. Kiddies dont vote, let them be kiddies. Quit indoctrinating them, dammit.

Stopped Clock said...

Is this our first spammer?

Anonymous said...

"They'd be accusing him of BigBrotherism and two-minute-hates and all that jazz. Kiddies dont vote, let them be kiddies. Quit indoctrinating them, dammit."

Are you high? Lefties have to indoctrinate kids.

1) Lefties have too few of their own kids.

2) A growing % of kids are NAMs.

Conservatives are content to indoctrinate their own kids at home.

Leftists have to convert other people's kids.

Anonymous said...

Political identification can only be determined by one's actions, not by rhetoric, showy self promotion or facile pronouncements.

Most professors live in lily white areas (check their zip codes) and raise their kids in schools (many private) far away from inner-city blacks. They listen to Mozart, study European history, and generally are as ethnocentnric as other Americans.

What professors are particularly good at though is wooing young liberal girls with the art of rhetoric, embellished with the refinements of faked sincerity.

James A. Donald said...

I find this data hard to believe. I think you will find that ninety percent of those self described "conservatives" vote democrat, and a good chunk of those "liberals" vote for obscure groupuscules like the greens, because they think that the democrats are conservative

Stopped Clock said...

James, I was surprised too, but it says right in the data that more elementary school teachers identify as Republicans than as Democrats.

Audacious Epigone said...


Former Presidents Reagan and HW Bush both gave broadcast speeches from classrooms as well, and the content was pretty similar (I assume the left did raise the sort of hell you're suspecting they would in the present) to the saccharin stuff Obama talked about today. Predictably, those sympathetic to him are ridiculing those who raised hell about it.


No, but it is the first to interject into a thread that is still hot, I think. I have a few comment sections I regularly have to clean up--the one on skin becoming a uniform is relentlessly assailed by someone pushing something in Japanese.

Audacious Epigone said...


The GSS queries respondents on who they voted for in Presidential elections. I'll take a look.

Anonymous said...