I have been looking at college towns. I took a picture of their average precinct in the 2020 presidential election. University of Michigan average precinct:

UMich Sample Precinct

These college towns are recording performances for Democrats that are literally Washington DC level. Ithaca in Upstate New York had an even bigger performance for Democrats.

This is interesting. Why are college towns so Democratic-leaning, far more than average people of college age?

  • Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to debate the question matter. If you would like to answer, please post a real answer. Please try to limit these comments to suggesting improvements to the question.
    – JJJ
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 1:48

6 Answers 6


Cosmopolitanism leads to social liberalism. It's been proven time and again since at least the 1950's: the more you're exposed to a variety of people and viewpoints, the more likely you are to have empathy and tolerance for other people. Empathy and tolerance are the backbone of social liberalism, and of the two major parties, the Democrats are more strongly allied with social liberalism.

While an average small town will only see diverse viewpoints/people that are already endemic to the city, a college town sees new students from all over the world every single year. Likewise, large cities also see more diverse viewpoints and people, and also tend to vote for Democrats.

But it isn't just that: educated people...

are more likely to understand the complex and interdependent nature of a modern economy, and the way that prosperity is dependent on factors like an educated work force, good transit systems, and new scientific breakthroughs.

  • 65
    I really take issue with the presumption that being exposed to other cultures leads to empathy and/or tolerance, particularly because none of those studies have proven a causal link, which likely isn't possible to do. There is a false assumption that all cultures are innately good and cultural clash does not exist. This type of thinking disenfranchises those who experience cultural clash and foments right wing extremism. It's hubris. Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 21:20
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    I take issue with the quote at the end - a quote from an explicitly Democrat-supporting blog that uses vague language to imply that "smart people vote Democrat because they are smart". The reference to complexity - which gives the appearance of supporting evidence - is too poorly explained to be anything more than a linguistic trick.
    – Brilliand
    Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 22:04
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    @user2647513 There isn't a false assumption here. The point is that understanding other cultures allows you to see all cultures more clearly. You can certainly form views about other societies, but you're not (normally) in a position to act on those views. However your better understanding will naturally also result in you forming views about what your own society could improve - and you are in a position to bring about change there.
    – Graham
    Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 22:28
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    "Empathy and tolerance are the backbone of social liberalism" I'd like to see a citation or link for this rather than a bare assertion. For example, the Moral Foundations framework popularised by Haidt uses the terms fairness and care/harm. That work also points out that self-reported liberals value those two attributes above the others, which is a much more specific, defensible and less rhetorical (possibly snide) statement than the "backbone" one.
    – ian
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 10:46
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    I'm going to add that I checked every link in "It's been proven time and again since at least the 1950's: the more you're exposed to a variety of people and viewpoints, the more likely you are to have empathy and tolerance for other people" and the word empathy (checked for "empat") was only found once, and not as the subject but an aside. Please try to be more careful when summarising the content of the evidence you provide for a statement. Hence, a downvote until/unless it's fixed. I won't bother checking them for "tolerance", this has been enough of a waste of my time.
    – ian
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 11:00

Biden did particularly well in two demographics:

  • Voters under 30 (62% for Biden vs. 35% for Trump)
  • College educated voters (55% for Biden vs. 42% for Trump)

So the reason why Biden did so particularly well in university districts could be that college students are the intersection of those two demographics.

Another reason could be (but that's just my conjecture) that Biden made a couple election promises which would be of great benefit to college students in particular if they were implemented:

  • "Make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all families with incomes below $125,000."
  • "Forgive all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt for debt-holders earning up to $125,000."
  • "Double the maximum value of Pell grants and significantly increase the number of middle-class Americans who can participate in the program. "
  • "Make historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and under-resourced minority serving institutions more affordable for their students" (although as a 65% white university, students at the University of Michigan would not benefit from that directly)
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    But the poster asked about Democrat-leaning, which afaik goes way back- not why did they vote for Biden in the last cycle. Look at the results from the 2016 election: mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2016/11/… (which shows an island of blue in a sea of red). I think 2020 was just one example. Here's another: Champaign County, IL: ccco-results.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/2016/docs/nov/…
    – Mike S
    Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 18:02
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    @MikeS More generally, Democratic policies tend to cater to college interests - as described in this answer. It would be interesting to see how far back this trend goes.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 18:45
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    Democrats tend to do better in more populated areas as well. A college town has that going for it, as well as a concentration of the 2 demographics you listed. It's an intersection of all 3.
    – Seth R
    Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 19:12
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    I think there's an implicit assumption this answer is making that isn't entirely borne out by reality: that those who attend a college also vote in the same district as that college. College students attending an out-of-state college have two options: an absentee ballot for their home state, or if they maintain a residence in the state (even a temporary one, so I think most of them will meet this) then they can register and vote there instead (they can't register/vote in both states at once). So there's a lot of dependency on how many students are out-of-state and how they vote. Commented May 1, 2021 at 19:41
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    Also Biden promised to rejoin Paris, and while elder people don't need to give a damn, this is important to those who have some decades left to live here on Earth.
    – ljrk
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 9:55

Edit: More explicit explanation of why this answer is constructed the way it is.

There are actually multiple questions hidden in what you're asking:

  1. Why is the voting results map so overwhelmingly uniform?
  2. Why is the resulting colour blue, ie. why is it uniform in favour of Dems and not Reps?

Most existing answers concentrate on #2, but answering #2 without addressing #1 is going to result in a potentially very misleading picture of things. Those are distinct, albeit heavily interrelated questions, and both have the same underlying cause: Because the US voting system doesn't allow a third party ever to rise to power.

Since it doesn't allow any meaningful political spectrum to arise, people have to choose the lesser of two evils. While Democrats are commonly seen as being liberal or "the left" (which are the policies much more likely to be favoured by younger people, people from urban areas, people with higher education, and people with more exposure to different people and cultures) in the US, they're actually shockingly far to the right and conservative by almost anyone else's standards, and their platform often boils down quite literally to "at least we're not Republicans". If the US didn't use the very broken first-past-the-post voting system, you wouldn't see a sea of blue, and instead you'd see a rainbow of options, mostly skewing to the left of the national popular vote.

So what you're seeing is an artefact of the fact that:

  • The US political system uses a known-bad voting method which invariably leads to a two-party deadlock, and by extension
  • Most voters will find themselves in a situation where they're choosing the lesser evil rather than choosing someone who truly represents them, and by extension
  • When one of the evils becomes particularly abhorrent to a particular section of the population (as is the case with Trump and young, urban, cosmopolitan population of a college town), they will almost invariably choose the other one

Whilst it might seem very odd and unusual to see ~90% of votes for one candidate in a particular place, it's really no more unusual than the fact US elections almost always end up with close to perfect 50% split, which is probably what you're used to and consider normal, and is just another facet of the same system that causes both.

If you're interested in exploring the topic of first-past-the-post and its problems, other voting systems, and how voting systems really shape almost everything about the political system, CGP Grey has an excellent series of videos on that.

  • 23
    This is an answer to some question, but not this one.
    – Dancrumb
    Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 22:08
  • 1
    Calling Democrats the "lesser" of two evils isn't an answer for this question.
    – Joe W
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 2:24
  • I fail to see how dead locking an election system into two parties most of the time is “very broken.” Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 13:34
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    @EkadhSingh: then I'd recommend you watch the CGP videos I linked, and also read up on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering and mronline.org/2020/09/12/…
    – mathrick
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 16:31
  • 2
    I previously didn't vote on this answer, but with the current edits it has my upvote
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 17:42

Let's see some graphs that illustrate political affiliation by profession: enter image description here

Comparison of donors, farmers (rural) are the most traditional.

Young people, college people, and urban zones are especially likely to be concerned with global warming, social justice, urban poverty, and to be more scientific and less religious, than older, rural and les academic people.

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    This doesn't really answer the question, but it's interesting to see how the occupations that are people centric lean democrat, and the less exposure to people lean Republican.
    – Issel
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 13:27
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    @Issel it's an interesting observation, but one where it may be hard to unpick correlation and causation. Occupations that are people-centric are likely to be lower income, so this may just be socio-economic status in disguise. It would be interesting to see data in high-income people-centric occupations - maybe real estate or car sales?
    – James_pic
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 16:12
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    @James_pic that's true, and it can also be the case that the beliefs of people that drive the political affiliation, also drive what kind of work they do, rather than the work making a change to people's outlook and beliefs.
    – Issel
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 17:07
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    @James_pic You mean like doctors? Which the graphic mentions but doesn't have a colored circle for. Commented May 1, 2021 at 7:29

Political leanings are influenced by life experiences. College towns have a relatively broad exposure to different cultures and political ideas due to the rotating student base provided by the university. This broader exposure has a distinct depolarizing effect on individuals, where their evident political leanings move closer to what their true political leanings would be, if we lived in a world with perfect information.

The myth that colleges in the USA push students to the left is mostly false. The appearance of indoctrination is there due to the local Overton window in the US being somewhat right-leaning when compared with the rest of the world. Having a broad exposure to international cultures will tend to shift an individuals Overton window toward the middle, which is a shift to the left in the US. As a result, a more liberal ideology is the usual result in US universities, and residents of US college towns are more likely to experience a shift in their Overton windows to the left.

The other major political effect caused by having a broader exposure to different cultures would be a heightened awareness of social issues, and how those issues impact individuals from different backgrounds. While this in itself doesn't shift true political leanings, it can shift the perception of political leaning by providing more information to an individual. A great example would be a strong 2A proponent advocating for stricter training and gun safety requirements after befriending an international student from a war-torn area of the world. It doesn't mean that 2A is now a bad thing in their mind, it just means that they understand that a small amount of regulation can preserve individual freedoms that might otherwise be at risk.

  • "US being somewhat right-leaning when compared with the rest of the world" Shouldn't you replace "rest of the world" with "western part of the European Communities"? (Have seen any social values survey from countries outside of Western civilization? )///"Having a broad exposure to international cultures" Positive encounters. /// "by providing more information to an individual" Does not seem to affect much US left-wingers on issues on which they are global outlier like ex. their love for lax election safety standards.
    – Shadow1024
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 11:16
  • @Shadow1024 I meant what I wrote. PRC is a socialist oligarchy for instance, and that accounts for ~17% of the worlds population. Exposure means exposure. Political leanings are just as influenced by negative encounters, if not more so. "Love for lax election safety standards" is a baseless GOP scare tactic. Believing that each person who is taxed should be fairly represented is a core founding belief of the United States. Allowing remote voting options does not open the election to broad-spectrum fraud, according to all studies I've seen on the matter.
    – GOATNine
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 12:38

Partial answer: academics are more likely to be liberal than conservative (especially in the social sciences), and hence one would expect college towns to lean Democratic. See this question on Academia.SE.

If you're looking for a deeper answer, I don't have one, and judging by the responses to that question there is no readily-available answer.

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