Political demographics have never been a concrete construct. Blue strongholds like California were once viewed as conservative bastions while the state of Georgia shifted blue for the first time in 25 years. Yet over the past decade, a growing trend has emerged amongst college educated Americans. Namely, a much greater majority of this intellectual community, those who typically work in “white-collar” fields, lean liberal on just about every major political issue. Whether a product of their upbringing or of the surrounding environment, Generation X and the Millennial generation will shape politics for decades to come in the same fashion their parents did before them.
The Rise of The Liberal Graduate
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 1994, 7 percent of college graduates considered themselves liberal and 1 percent of high school grads. The change in 2016 was stark as 31 percent of college grads considered themselves liberal while only 5 percent of highschool grads leaned left. The study conducted by the Pew Research Center conclusively found that while the level of high school graduates who identify as liberal has remained relatively the same over the past 25 years, college educated Americans have become increasingly liberal.
Are College Students More Liberal Than In Previous Generations?
There is clear evidence that universities have shifted further left along the political spectrum. Polling from several research institutes has found that progressives are much more prone to donate to universities than conservatives. Furthermore, faculty who populate the liberal arts majors are far more likely to hold progressive views than faculty in non-liberal arts majors.
UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) uncovered unequivocal data that proves college faculties are far more liberal than in prior decades. Researchers at HERI conducted a survey for the academic year of 2016-17 to find the political leanings of faculty across multiple colleges. Their research found that 60% of faculty identify as either left or far-left compared to 12% of faculty who identify as conservative. HERI calculated that approximately 42% of university faculty identified as liberal in 1989 along with 18% who identified as conservative.
A Growing Shift In Student Demographics
It’s no secret that women significantly outnumber men in colleges across America. Riding high off the burgeoning feminist movement of the 1960s, many women began to set their sights on positions typically occupied by men in fields like business, medicine, law, and engineering. Consequently, millions of women enrolled in colleges to break into these once male dominated occupations. The shift in gender on campus has been striking since the 1970s when male students outnumbered their female counterparts to the tune of a 58/42 split.
By 2017, that ratio had essentially flipped in favor of women. Women may be partly responsible for the growing liberalization of college campuses due to their proclivity to lean progressive on numerous political issues. According to another recent study by UCLA’s HERI, 41% of women identify their political leanings as either “left” or “far-left”. As the gap between male and female college students widens, expect colleges to move further left along the political spectrum.
The Growing Insularity of America
In his 2008 book “The Big Sort”, Bill Bishop theorized that Americans were increasingly living with like-minded people. If your community tends to lean a certain way on issues, there’s a good chance that you do too. Bishop found that metropolitan areas were growing increasingly liberal because the jobs offered there entailed the candidate have at least a college degree. This new wave of workers who come from largely liberal college campuses have reshaped the white-collar landscape. In fact, the 10 most populated cities in the nation are all considered liberal in their political makeup, policies, and voting demographics.
How Liberal Are These Groups?
The medical sector was long considered a conservative field. After-all, medicine was almost exclusively populated with high-earning men who owned their practices. Doctors favored conservative policies that aimed to reduce malpractice lawsuits and limit government regulation of the medical industry. In 1990, 61% of doctors contributed to republican tickets. By 2018, that figure had flipped to favor democrat politicians. When progressives introduced their “Medicare For All” plan in the 1960s, many doctors including the American Medical Association campaigned against the new doctrine.
Furthermore, medicine experienced its own gender shift in the latter end of the 20th century. Women, who now make up about half of all medical school students, flooded into the medical field. Additionally, many doctors were forced to either retire or sell their practice and join a healthcare conglomerate as the cost of owning a small practice skyrocketed.
Finally, thousands of doctors are now faced with mounting student loans. As progressive policies favor student loan cancellation and forbearance, many doctors have gotten on board with such policies. With more women in the medical field, fewer small-business owners overall, and mounting student loan debt, the medical field has predictably shifted left.
Are lawyers really more liberal than in the past? According to a study conducted by professors from Harvard, Stanford, and UChicago, it depends on what law school they attend and what type of law they practice. The study conducted by Bonica, Chilton, & Sen tracked the political contributions of lawyers from around the nation. Bonica, Chilton, & Sen tracked federal campaign contributions listed on the Database of Ideology, Money In Politics, and Elections.
Based on their findings, the trio concluded that American lawyers lean left when it comes to politics. The study also aimed to identify the most liberal and progressive legal fields. According to the researchers, entertainment law and civil rights are the most liberal areas of law, while oil & gas, and mergers & acquisitions are the two most conservative legal fields. They also found that few lawyers are on the far end of either political spectrum. Most tend to hover around the center with a majority occupying the left of center.
The most conservative and liberal legal fields according to Bonica, Chilton & Sen:
The political leanings of the banking sector as a whole are less known than other white-collar fields. Although the growth of progressive ideologies throughout the industry is certain due to the points listed above, political contributions tend to vary each election cycle. According to Ed Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, “banks want power, banks want their money to make a difference.”
The data on campaign contributions and the political leanings of workers within the industry seem to support the fact that banking is neither a liberal nor conservative field. Paul Merski, an Executive Vice President for Independent Community Bankers of America, explained that contributions typically mirror the makeup of Congress with more contributions going to a Republican controlled Congress and vice-versa. While the sector is more progressive than in the past, banking and those who work in it tend to favor policies that benefit their own bottom lines.
The entertainment industry has largely been considered a liberal establishment for decades. First and foremost, 57% of those who work in the entertainment industry typically work in either California or New York, two of the most liberal states in the nation. Furthermore, over half of all people who work in the entertainment industry hold at least a bachelor’s degree.
Data from the American Community Survey also found that an overwhelming majority of actors belong to unions – which tend to push people left along the political spectrum. Some believe there is a psychological component that explains the liberal dominance of the entertainment industry as well. Psychologist Adam Waytz postulates that liberals are those who empathize with the socially disadvantaged and people around the world more so than conservatives. As international figures, celebrities are more aware of global issues – a hallmark of liberalism.
Jewish Americans have been one of the most successful demographics of the last hundred years. Many Jewish people occupy high-paying jobs in the medical, legal, financial, and entertainment fields. As such, it may come as no surprise that a wide-majority of the American Jewish population identifies as liberal. According to a Gallup poll from 2017, 68% of Jews identified with liberal policies while only 28% identified with the conservative end of the political spectrum.
The Jewish population has typically identified with social-justice policies that champion the unfortunate. Many leading European Jews of the 19th and early 2oth century backed liberal policies and identified with left-leaning political groups.. As anti-semitism began to flourish in Europe during the 1920s and 30s, Jewish populations left Europe for the political and religious freedom of the United States.
Many Jews naturally sided with Democrat president FDR and his fight to rid the world of Nazism. As such, many Jews who lived through World War 2 associate Nazism with right-wing politics. Whether an over-generalization or not, Jewish-American conservatives are far outnumbered by their liberal counterparts.
Will Conservatism Make A Come-Back Among The College Educated?
Although it is increasingly evident that liberal ideologies will continue to permeate the minds of the college educated, there is a growing trend toward conservatism in younger generations. According to research, Generation Z (born after 1995) may be the most conservative generation since World War II. Many in this generation have witnessed their parents lose everything during the Great Recession and watched as the economy bottomed out during the ongoing pandemic. As such, Generation Z stands to be more fiscally responsible and wary of big government spending. Only time will tell if the demographics shift again in the coming decades, but they’ve yet to remain constant.