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Formal Economic Educational Attainment and Political Affilitation

May 18th, 2011 · No Comments · Economics

ivory_tower.jpgIn his somewhat misleadingly titled post, my friend Steve breathlessly reports that a small survey of 299 college professors shows them to mostly vote Democratic. Whaaaa…? College professors mostly “D”s? Stop the presses(!?)

While I suppose it’s mildly interesting those surveyed happen to be professors of Economics, they are hardly representative of the 15,000 economists in the United States, or the millions who have formally studied how goods and services are created and allocated. It’s also not well aligned with my post (which he claims to be refuting) where I address ideology and worldview (constrained vs unconstrained), not political party. There are many members of both “Sowellian” worldviews in any single party. Even a staunch capitalist/individualist like me can make the case that I have checked the “D” box more often on ballots than I have the “R” box.

If you step outside the ivory towers of academia and strive for a representative, broad sampling of those trained in Economics, a different story emerges. When you go for real statistical significance — of say 2,000 samples — and include controls for a number of personal background variables the data is much clearer and aligned with what common sense would tell an econ major. I’ll let the New York Fed report speak for itself:


…those who took more economics classes or who majored in economics or business were more likely to be members of the Republican party and less likely to join the Democratic party. Those findings hold even after controlling for the higher salary, higher equity in real estate holdings, and earning a graduate degree.

For example, taking five economics courses is associated with an eight percent decrease in the likelihood of joining the Democratic party and more than a 10 percent higher chance of joining the Republican party. These marginal effects are large relative to the unconditional means reported in Table 1. For example, approximately 40 percent of respondents report being members of the Republican party, so a 10 percentage point increase for 5 economics courses represents a 25 percent increase…

Following previous research on the relationship between studying economics and attitudes on public policy issues (Allgood and Walstad 1999; Becker, Walstad, and Watts 1994), we drew several items on public policy issues from a survey of 464 American Ph.D. economists Alston et al. (1992). Becker, Walstad, and Watts (1994) sent a survey of 28 items to national samples of economic educators, secondary economics teachers, secondary [social studies] teachers not specializing in economics, and journalists, and found that the responses of economic educators and economics teachers were closer to responses of economists in the Alston et.al.


“Courses” refer to formal economics educational attainment. I assume those who have pursued a “self-taught” route toward economics selective/partial-literacy would only find their pre-existing world-views pleasantly reinforced.

As I’ve always said, I admit I have a slanted worldview, but it’s one based on formal education. You don’t spend years studying a discipline based on scarcity and find yourself believing that you can magically legislate away competition for housing or medical care.

On a related note, I encourage all to read this article which summarizes the happenings at a 2007 American Economics Association (AEA) convention. The ideological bent amongst the professional economists was palpable there, and aligns with what I would have anticipated. Not Democrat, not Republican, just Constrained.

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