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This answer to a question about "leftist" academia led me to wonder if the observed tendency towards more progressive and liberal views in more educated people is a product of a chance drift in the Overton Window within academia, or whether there is an actual causative mechanism here.

One way to address this would be to compare this trend between subjects. Subjects in the Humanities often have an unavoidable socio-economic component (e.g. history, human geography, economics), so in these subjects students will be exposed to the political views of their professors, and academic advancement for those with opposing political views will be harder. Meanwhile in the STEM subjects this is much less true.

So if the leftward trend of the educated is merely due to selective recruitment and indoctrination into a leftist subculture then we would expect to see the effect restricted to the humanities, with graduates and faculty in the STEM subjects being much less affected. OTOH if it is actually education that is correlated with progressive views (by whatever mechanism) then we would expect STEM graduates to have similar politics to the humanities.

Has any research been done which analyses the politics of university graduates by subject?

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    If you investigate this further, it might be interesting to compare Left-vs.-Right statistics for various levels of academics within a field -- for example, among those who get a Bachelor's, Master's, PhD, and professorship. Presumably folks who'd favor more free-market-type politics would be likely to become increasingly under-represented, while others would become correspondingly over-represented.
    – Nat
    May 21, 2023 at 11:12
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    Side note: this feels a very poorly defined question compared to other SE sites... You may want to define countries/time ranges for the question. To my knowledge educations was "leftist" in relation to the current government at any time for hundreds of years at least in many countries. Clarifying if you are looking for overall historical analysis or some specific country/timeframe/definition of "leftists"/"indoctrination" would be nice (looking at the answers the question should be edited to be US/2023 specific). May 22, 2023 at 17:55

3 Answers 3

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It's surprisingly hard to find a detailed by-major breakdown of these numbers. So far, the best I can do is this study based on a “national survey of 1643 (American) faculty members from 183 four-year colleges and universities”. (I haven't found one for the students.)

Ranking the departments by Liberal minus Conservative percentage margin gives:

  1. English Literature (85)
  2. Political Science (79)
  3. Theology/Religion (78)
  4. Psychology (76)
  5. Fine Arts (75)
  6. Philosophy (75)
  7. Performing Arts (68)
  8. Sociology (68)
  9. History (67)
  10. Music (66)
  11. Communications (61)
  12. Biology (58)
  13. Physics (55)
  14. Linguistics (54)
  15. Mathematics (52)
  16. Computer Science (48)
  17. Chemistry (35)
  18. Education (32)
  19. Engineering (32)
  20. Economics (16)
  21. Business (10)
  22. Nursing (6)

So, if this survey is representative, then all of academia is liberal, but the humanities departments are more liberal.

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    FWIW, trends related to how religious academics are also vary by discipline but differently. Scientists are more secular than humanities faculty, for example. Religious belief and politics are correlated, however, which may be part of the reason for some liberal tilt even in relatively more conservative STEM disciplines. Also worth noting that a minority of higher ed institutions are much more conservative than the average. There is a strong "campus" effect.
    – ohwilleke
    May 19, 2023 at 23:23
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    @ohwilleke Can you explain your point about religious belief? I would have assumed the correlation is more religous goes with more conservative? In that case the more secular STEM disciplines should be more liberal than the more religious humanities but the survery shows just the opposite.
    – quarague
    May 20, 2023 at 19:48
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    @quarague My point is that while religion and political beliefs are correlated, they aren't perfectly correlated. STEM field academics are ore secular but also have more apolitical professional lives. Non-STEM academics are less secular but have professional lives that are more engaged with matters of political content. While both matter somewhat, it turns out that the content of one's professional life is a more powerful factor than one's religious views, at least among academics. But for the fact that STEM academics were so secular, you'd expect them to lean neutral or mildly conservative.
    – ohwilleke
    May 20, 2023 at 20:50
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    May be worth asking a question on stats.stackexchange.com to see if we can conclude anything relative to the breakdown by departments. At first glance it looks like a small-ish sample to break things down like that. For example we end up with 26 surveyed people in Philosophy, with 22 classified as liberal or conservative. Hard to believe this is a reliable result for this department, given the sample size.
    – J-J-J
    May 21, 2023 at 19:37
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    Upvote despite being an extremely unhelpful way of presenting that data. Just show the actual base percent % or mark them as lean in some way other than the verbal description of the numbers. Do also mark this as US-specific, of course.
    – lly
    May 22, 2023 at 5:55
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(Allegedly writing from a conservative PoV) Not much detail and rather older studies, but there does seem to be a rough and ready linkage:

Surveys of professors from the early 2000s show Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 3 to 1 in conservative fields like economics, 6 to 1 in moderate fields such as political science and STEM majors, and by more than 10 to 1 in other liberal arts and social sciences, while Americans are split fairly equally between the parties. No one thinks academia has grown more centrist since.

Re. your use of "indoctrination", the article goes on to say...

To the consternation of conservatives, though, our body of research generally contradicts the notion that these imbalances mean right-leaning students are routinely under siege on college campuses. We do not deny incidents of political correctness run amuck. Fox News gleefully provides examples of leftist mobs driving controversial speakers off campus, actions posing serious challenges to universities’ very purpose of educating and instilling critical thinking.

Yet our studies provide evidence that these types of incidents don’t impact typical students at nonelite campuses, where few students grapple with real ideological conflict. One 2018 study found that, in contrast to their professors, 22 percent of college freshmen consider themselves conservative or far-right, while 36 identify as liberal or far-left. Yet most non-leftist students attend classes, take their exams and generally graduate satisfied with the quality of their undergraduate experience. Our findings, largely favorable to academia, have been highlighted by mainstream news outlets including The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

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See these two studies which support your assertion.

Table political affiliation Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty

Another study paints a similar picture Table

At least one other explanation for this phenomena exist
-People inclined to studying humanities could have other character traits than people studying STEM. Research indicates that genetics influence character traits and political orientation but not cause them. Excerpt from relevant study

These analyses show that the majority of covariance between personality and attitudes was due to shared genetic variance, while the relationship between the idiosyncratic environmental components of politics and personality was notably smaller.

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