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January 08, 2004

Measuring liberal bias in academia

Following on S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman's groundbreaking 1981 research quantifying the degree of liberal bias in the media, there has been a flood of evidence validating the claim that an overwhelming majority of journalists tend to be politically liberal.  (Perhaps not surprisingly, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, there are still many "mainstream" journalists and pundits who deny that there is any such thing as liberal bias in the media or, even more bizarrely, argue that there is conservative bias.)

Similarly, there is a lot of discussion in right wing circles about "political correctness" or "ideological bias" on college campuses.   However, there have been few efforts to quantify the extent of the bias, either in aggregate or at individual campuses.    (The notable exception to this was David Horowitz's analysis of the ideological background of commencement speakers at elite universities, which found that liberals outnumbered conservatives by 11 to 1.)

Thanks to the Federal Elections Commission's database of individual political contributions over $200, however, it is possible to fairly easily measure the distribution of staff and faculty political contributions at major universities.    Yesterday I did a quick and dirty analysis of four universities' staff and faculty contributions to the 2004 federal election cycle (as reported to the FEC) during the first nine months of 2003 (the most recent period available).       For this analysis, I looked at the three most prestigious large US universities (Harvard, Yale and Stanford) and a more or less randomly selected state university (the University of Tennessee, where Glenn Reynolds -- better known as Instapundit -- teaches constitutional, administrative and internet law).    The results were, well, predictable.

Professors and staff at the three big, elite universities (or the "Big 3") made a total of 455 individually reported political donations during the first nine months of 2003 for a total of $362,867.   Fully 85% of the donations and 86% of the money went to Democratic candidates, party organizations or affiliated PACs, versus 11% of donations to Republicans accounting for 12% of the cash.    (Nonpartisan groups like occupational PACs (e.g. the American Hospital Association PAC with 3 donations) or ideologically neutral groups like the Human Rights Campaign PAC (1 donation) which split their donations between Republican and Democratic candidates accounted for 4% of the contributions and 2% of the funding.)

Big 3 Faculty Political Donations 2004 Cycle

The more middle-American University of Tennessee (perhaps surprisingly) showed similar ideological bias, though with a far smaller number of contributions.    During the period in question, 14 contributions in excess of $200 were made by 11 contributors for a total of $8,800.   Democrats received 71% of the donations and 80% of the dollars versus 24% of donations to the Republicans and 17% of the proceeds.    (Consolidating multiple contributions by a single donor reduces the disparity somewhat with 64% of the contributors giving to Democrats and 27% to Republicans, but doesn't change the overall conclusion.)

Someone (any political science graduate students out there with time on their hands?) should do a more thorough analysis of this data for a longer period of time.

For more information on the methodology used, including a link to the Excel spreadsheet containing the raw data, click here.

Here are links to several groups that are concerned about the widespread ideological bias in academia:

Accuracy In Academia
Center for the Study of Popular Culture

Note:    I revised this post to remove earlier references implying that Stanford was a member of the "Ivy League" after several readers wrote pointing out this error.

January 8, 2004 at 04:16 PM | Permalink


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Tracked on Jan 9, 2004 1:50:03 AM


Further research will reveal that Stanford is not in the Ivy League.
And if you want to know which one is right for you, take this quiz http://quizilla.com/users/coolhound/quizzes/Which%20Ivy%20League%20University%20is%20right%20for%20YOU%3F/

That doesn't change the results of the research, but it might increase your "credibility at a glance" quotient.

Posted by: Mike Pearson | Jan 8, 2004 11:45:46 PM

Dear Mike:

You are correct, but Stanford is among the top 3 US universities, at least in my book. (And I never attended Stanford...) I admit to being somewhat sloppy in my use of the term "Ivy League". Mea culpa.


Posted by: Spart | Jan 9, 2004 12:40:33 AM

No prob, though I rank Caltech (my alma mater) as the uber-university. The "Top 3" were for the kids who liked drama or politics - not for the Marines of Technology. (oops, sounds too much like MIT).

Might be fun to see the distribution of what the top science and engineering schools donate. Many of my school pals are Republicans, though I'm nor sure if the percentage exceeds the one of the general population.

Posted by: Mike Pearson | Jan 9, 2004 1:10:56 AM


You've done a great job collecting these data -- why damage your credibility with this insistence on referring to Stanford as an Ivy League member? Let alone "Big 3"? It only detracts from your presentation.

Posted by: Otter | Jan 9, 2004 12:44:47 PM

Also consistent with your data is liberal bias in textbooks for courses discussing contentious issues. My review of about 120 texts in 50 courses at one major U. showed about 90% liberal bias at least, and numerous outragious quotes in mainstream undergrad classes and College of Education. Why do moderate to conservative parents help finance this stuff????

Posted by: Jon Hill | Jun 20, 2004 11:53:40 PM

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