As regular readers will know, I've been working hard over the last year thinking of ways to get data on the moral behavior of ethics professors. As part of this project, I have looked at the public voting records of professors in several states (California, Florida, North Carolina, Washington State, and soon Minnesota), on the assumption that voting is a civic duty. If so, we can compare the rates at which ethicists and non-ethicists perform this duty. Soon I'll start posting some of my preliminary analyses.
First, however, I thought you might enjoy some data on the political affiliation of professors in California, Florida, and North Carolina. (These states make party affiliation publicly available information.) Although U.S. academics are generally reputed to be liberal and Democratic, systematic data are sparser than one might expect. Here's what I found.
Among philosophers (375 records total):
Democrat: 87.2%Among political scientists (225 records total:)
Peace & Freedom: 0.3%
Democrat: 82.7%Among a comparison group drawn randomly from all other departments (179 records total):
Peace & Freedom: 0.4%
Democrat: 75.4%By comparison, in California (from which the bulk of the data are drawn), the registration rates (excluding decline to state [19.4%]) are:
Democrat: 54.3%Perhaps this accounts for my sense that if there's one thing that's a safe dinner conversation topic at philosophy conferences, it's bashing Republican Presidents.
Other: 5.3% [source]
Now I'm not sure 87.2% of professional philosophers would agree that there's good evidence the sun will rise tomorrow (well, that's a slight exaggeration, but we are an ornery and disputatious lot!), so why the virtual consensus about political party?
Conspiracy theories are out: There is no point in the job interview process, for example, when you would discover the political leanings of an applicant who was not applying in political philosophy. We ask about research, teaching, and that's about it. Even interviewing a political philosopher (a small minority of philosophers) it will not always be evident if the interviewee is "liberal" or "conservative", since her research will often be highly abstract or historical.
Self-interest also seems an insufficient explanation: Many professors are at private institutions, and few philosophy professors earn government grants, so even if Democrats are more supportive of funding for universities and research, many philosophy professors will at best profit very indirectly from that. Furthermore, it's not clear to me -- though I'm open to evidence on this -- that Democrats do serve professors' financial interests better than Republicans. For example, social services for the poor and keeping tuition low seem to have a higher priority among liberal Democrats in California than the salaries of professors.
Democrats might be tempted to flatter themselves with this explanation: Professors are smart and informed, and smart and informed people are rarely Republican. That would be interesting if it were true, and it's empirically explorable; but I suspect that in fact a better explanation has to do with the kind of values that lead one to go into academia and that an academic career reinforces -- though I find myself struggling now to discern exactly what those values are (tolerance of difference? more willingness to believe that knowledgeable people can direct society for the better? less respect for the pursuit of wealth as a career goal?).