Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Political orientation and educational attainment

In a forthcoming post, I look separately at the influences of IQ and educational attainment on fertility. I wanted to do something similar with political orientation, so here it is.

The following tables show political orientation percentage distributions by educational attainment after roughly controlling for IQ. Respondents are broken up into five categories, each displayed in a separate table, in a way that approximates a normal distribution; Really Smarts (wordsum score of 9-10, comprising 13% of the population), Pretty Smarts (7-8, 26%), Normals (6, 22%), Pretty Dumbs (4-5, 27%), and Real Dumbs (0-3, 12%). To balance concerns for contemporary relevance with ample sample sizes (specifically among the highly educated, low wordsum-scoring respondents), all data are from 1990 onward. To allow enough time for educational pursuit, respondents are at least 28 years old.

First, those of most modest intelligence:

Real DumbsLibModCon
Less than HS31.935.632.3
High school25.939.135.1
Some college26.834.438.8

This bunch is pretty consistent across all education levels and a bit to the left of the general population (the total GSS pool is ~25% liberal, ~40% moderate, 35% conservative) with the exception of those at the post-graduate level, where the liberal bent is more pronounced.

Those pursuing doctoral degrees are substantially more left-leaning than their less educated cognitive cohorts all the way up the line. As the professorial class comes from the post-graduate contingent, it's not surprising that college academics are so liberal.

Working our way up that line:

Pretty DumbsLibModCon
Less than HS22.942.734.4
High school20.244.635.2
Some college21.244.034.8

There is a similar consistency up through the four-year college degree, albeit with a center-right lean instead of a center-left one. Again, at the post-graduate level, liberalism is much more prominent than it is at lower levels of educational attainment.

Among the average Joes:

Less than HS25.339.435.3
High school21.145.433.6
Some college22.839.737.4

Just about what would be expected of the middle. The graduate school liberal skew is the most modest here, although it is still detectable.

Moving into the second level of intelligence, educational distinctions become clearer:

Pretty SmartsLibModCon
Less than HS16.642.940.4
High school18.546.335.2
Some college22.438.639.1

Two-thirds of those with a bachelor's degree or higher come from the pretty smarts and really smarts even though together they constitute a bit less than 40% of the population. Among pretty smarts, the conservative segment doesn't move much one way or the other across the educational spectrum. The changes come among the liberal and moderate columns. As education increases, moderates become liberals. This is intuitive--those who become politically aware during their college years after having been apathetic before that emerge as liberals, but I doubt many committed conservatives shift markedly to the left while in college, especially given how widely the popular right media admonishes conservatives about academia's leftism today.

Finally, the cognitive elite:

Really SmartsLibModCon
Less than HS17.641.441.0
High school26.632.940.6
Some college32.525.841.8

Again, moderates give way to liberals as we move up the educational ladder, while the conservative contingent holds steady, except at the graduate level. Among the country's most intelligent and educated, moderates are predictably few and far between.

Parenthetically, the impetus for this was a post Razib put together that is a little overwhelming at first (but reading his description and realizing that the table's first section is for all respondents while subsequent sections are broken down as noted makes it comprehensible). Razib's been supportive of TAE and responsive to personal inquiries, even though I'm always vaguely aware that he could rip much of what I write about apart if he wanted to, like he's wont to do to other bloviaters.

How is he propitiated? He tips his hand a bit in said post, describing what he is doing with it:
Instead of talking and commenting I thought as an exercise I would go further, and also be precise about my methodology so that people could replicate it (hint: this is a chance for readers to follow up and figure something out on their own, instead of tossing out an opinion I don’t care about).
If lots of people smarter than myself were moved by his prodding, I'd be out of the job (and they'd be out of a lot free time) and we'd learn a ton in the process!

GSS variables used: YEAR(1990-2010), EDUC(0-11)(12)(13-15)(16-17)(18-20), WORDSUM(0-3)(4-5)(6)(7-8)(9-10), AGE(28-89)


Olave d'Estienne said...

So moderates always hold the balance of power! Everywhere!

It's sort of ego gratifying to note that poorly and moderately educated people of high verbal ability are among the most conservative.

Razib said...

hah. nice post! i would link to you, but you complimented me, so would seem self-serving. so into pinboard.

btw, nice new look.

Steve Sailer said...

I have some questions about the post-graduate category, which I really ought to have clear in my mind but I don't.

- There are usually separate categories for "Some College" and "College Graduate," but there aren't separate categories for "Some Postgraduate" and "Postgraduate Graduate." How exactly does the GSS specify who gets to check the Postgrad box?

- Has anybody ever checked what % of people claiming to be in the Postgrad category actually have traditional postgraduate degrees? I could imagine more than few people deciding that their Microsoft Certified Network Engineer certificate or their desultory night school attendance qualifies them as Postgrad.

- What do self-attested Postgrads do for a living? Medicine? Philosophy professor? Elementary schoolteacher? Random stuff?

Audacious Epigone said...


It suggests, too, that the educational system has more influence on cultural and political views of the gifted than it does on people of more modest intelligence.


Damn, talk about your all time backfire. Haha, kidding, and thanks.


I regularly use the number of years of schooling respondents have received and "convert" that to categories listed as followed:

0-11 = less than high school
12 (the mode by far, so I'm pretty comfortable going this route) = high school
13-15 = some college
16-17 = bachelor's
18-20 = post-graduate

So there will be some people who fly through school who appear to be less educated than they actually are, and a few six year plan laggards who get thrown into the post-graduate category but are really just taking forever to get that psychology undergrad degree before moving back in with their parents. I group 17 years (5 years of college) in with the bachelor's category to catch most of this, though.

It's not a perfect system, but nothing in the GSS ever is, since the data are self-reported.

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

I'm curious to know what percentage of the total pool "Really Dumb Postgrads" constitutes. Intuitively, one would think the percentage likely exiguous, but with the influence of "affirmative" action, the percentage could be a bit higher than one would expect.

PS--When are you going to weigh in on the Derbyshire/Weissberg blowup at NRO? ;)

Steve Sailer said...

So, postgrads include those who don't get diplomas.

MC said...

I suspect a lot of "post-grads" are teachers who have bogus masters' degrees paid for by the school district so they can move up the collectively bargained payscale. Teachers are probably and outright majority of the "really dumbs" who have post-grad degrees. I can't imagine what other kind of graduate program would even take them.

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...


Any postgrad program with "studies" in the title would take them. Sociology, too.

Audacious Epigone said...


I don't think I have anything additional to say that hasn't already been said. It's not surprising, though I guess a little disappointing, that Rich Lowry would give the Derb the ax for articulating what almost everybody knows to be true, and then engage in Orwellian nonsense about Derb's article being outlandish. It's not outlandish at all, which is why it is so intolerable, of course. As Steve Sailer has written several times, nobody wants to hear about the grimly predictable stuff, and if you bring it up, it'll be perceived as being in bad taste, or worse. Glad to see VDare picked him up, though.


Yep, that's correct. My "post-graduate" category comprises 7.3% of the 25 and older population. Wikipedia shows that 7.95% of the US population 25+ has either a master's or a doctorate, so it looks like this GSS method delivers solid approximations.

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

As an aside--and then I'll cease and desist on this digression--NRO's brass removed my "star" for defending Derb/Weissberg and criticizing Lowry. Totally picayune and far beyond insignificant, but I found it amusing. I suppose it's flattering to know somebody's paying enough attention to even care.

Audacious Epigone said...


Do all those who have access to The Corner have the ability to toggle that stuff, or do you think the web editor did it? Either way, the pettiness is funny--or rather would be funny, were it not so pathetic.

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...


Corner posters have the ability to report a post as "abusive," I believe. As to who actually calls the shots on that forum, I really have no idea. I'm pretty sure a few posters are anointed moderators (they have little policeman ikons), but I don't know what powers they possess. And I don't know if there's a monitor on the NRO payroll, or if somebody like a Lowry gets in on the act. It would be interesting to know what sort of chain of command they have there.

TangoMan said...

If we ask WHY there is a skew towards liberalism in the cognitive elite that occurs after the Bachelor's level, we have to find an answer to what is up with cons and mods who decline to go on towards grad school at rates proportional to liberals.

Here is some research which focuses on tangential issues and may help flesh out a better understanding on the above question.

Returns to Graduate and Professional Education: The Roles of Mathematical and Verbal Skills by Major

If major-specific skills at the bachelor’s degree level are increasing in market value, then they will tend to lower incentives to pursue graduate work in that field. Conversely, majors whose skills are falling in value at the bachelor’s level will have disproportionately high numbers of graduate students. If this sorting effect drives lower earning bachelor’s degree recipients into graduate school and drives higher earning bachelor’s degree recipients out of graduate school, it would tend to depress estimated returns to graduate work. If true, then least squares estimates of the returns to graduate school that ignored the role of major specific ability measures would tend to understate the true returns. Our empirical work provides evidence consistent with this sorting story.

. . . .

GRE scores have an interesting impact on the probability of pursuing a higher degree. Undergraduates in majors with higher verbal scores and lower quantitative scores are more likely to pursue the doctorate or professional degrees. The standard deviation of GRE scores in the major tend to reinforce the effects of the mean scores: higher standard deviation of GRE verbal scores raises the likelihood of pursuing the doctorate, while increasing the standard deviation of the quantitative score lowers the likelihood of pursuing the doctorate.

. . .

Those who do not go on to graduate school are drawn atypically from the upper tail of the GRE quantitative distribution and the lower tail of the GRE verbal distribution, both of which are expected to raise their earnings. On the other hand, those who go on to graduate school are drawn disproportionately from the lower tail of the quantitative GRE distribution and from the upper tail of the GRE verbal distribution, both of which lower their opportunity costs of graduate school.

The reason that I bring up this issue is that many people make an inference regarding intelligence in the always hot liberal-conservative skirmishes and they equate intelligence with educational attainment. Those who wish to make that claim then need to develop a model which incorporates people choosing not to attain a grad degree because the opportunity cost of doing so is too high in light of the rewards they can earn for their marketable skills. The intellectual peers of those in grad school are instead choosing to earn a living.

pat said...

Steve Sailer seems to have trouble concealing his contempt for the Microsoft Certified Network Engineer credential. I have a real post graduate degree and I also have a CNE. In fact I have a lot of Microsoft credentials (and some Novell too).

When I refinanced my house the lender didn't care about my Masters degree but demanded evidence about my various industry credentials. The CNE credential for which Mr. Sailer holds so little respect, is indeed respected by those who matter - the money men.

Audacious Epigone said...


Thanks for that. It's a little difficult for me to untangle--higher verbal and lower quantitative scores predict post-graduate education, yet Asians are more likely than whites to go that route, which suggests the whites who do tend to be especially (relatively) verbally inclined and quantitatively declined.


My best friend's home office wall has four framed certifications on it, and his undergrad and master's below them. He's in IT, and has said the same thing--employers care about the certifications more than they do about the college degrees. You guys actually do something useful and measurable, though, so it's not surprising that the academic stuff isn't taken seriously.