I assume that voting in public elections is a duty (a duty that admits of excuses and exceptions, of course) and that it's morally better to vote conscientiously than not to vote.
In previous research, I've found that:
(1.) ethics books are more likely to be missing from academic libraries than other philosophy books (full essay here),
(2.) philosophy students at Zurich do not give increasing amounts to student charities as their education proceeds, and
(3.) (with Joshua Rust) a majority of philosophers think ethicists behave, on average, no better than non-ethicists of similar social background (full essay here).
With Josh Rust's and my current findings on voting patterns, that's now four consecutive studies suggesting that ethicists behave no better than, or maybe even worse than, comparable non-ethicists.
Looking at voter history data from California, Florida, North Carolina, and Washington State, we found voting rates among professors registered to vote:
Ethicists: 0.97 votes/year (227 records total)The differences over .07 votes/year are statistically significant. The results are stable controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, state of residence, institution type, and political party. Controlling for rank doesn't substantially change the results, except that it raises the voting rate of the comparison group of "other professors" to a rate between that of ethicists and non-ethicists, so that it can't be said that philosophers vote more often than non-philosophers.
Political philosophers (a subgroup of ethicists): 0.95 votes/year (96 records)
Non-ethicist philosophers: 1.07 votes/year (279 records)
Political scientists: 1.11 votes/year (244 records)
Other professors: 0.93 votes/year
Now I'd have thought political philosophers, like political scientists, would be more engaged than average with the political process. Instead -- depressingly (to me; maybe you'll rejoice?) -- it seems that they're less engaged, at least if voting is taken as the measure of engagement.
When I face moral decisions -- decisions like "should I go out and vote even though I'd rather look for Weird Al videos on YouTube?" -- I often reflect on what I should do. I think about it; I weigh the pros and cons; I consider duties and consequences and what people I admire or loathe would do. I am implicitly and deeply committed to the value of reflection in making moral decisions and prompting moral behavior. To suppose that moral reflection is valueless is pretty dark, or at least pretty radical.
Yet if moral reflection does us moral good, you'd think that ethics professors, who are presumably champions of moral reflection, would themselves behave well -- or at least not worse!
(Josh Rust and I will be presenting these results as a poster at the Society for Philosophy and Psychology meeting next week. The full text of the poster will be available shortly on the Underblog.)
Update, June 26:
In the last couple days, Josh and I were able to do a first analysis of new data from Minnesota. In that state, the ethicists and political philosophers appear to be so conscientious in their voting that it knocked the p-value of our main effect from .03 to .06 -- in other words, the trend in Minnesota was so strong the other direction that we can now no longer feel sufficiently confident (employing the usual statisical standards) that the trend we see for ethicists to vote less is not due simply to chance. So we should probably amend our thesis from "ethicists vote less" to the weaker "ethicists vote no more often". However, the Minnesota data also seem to introduce some potential confounds (such as that Minnesota philosophers seem to have unusual job stability) that complicate the interpretation and that we may want to try to compensate for statistically. So the final analysis isn't in!