Why are highly educated Americans getting more liberal?

“It’s a well-worn (if not-entirely-agreed-upon) idea that college makes people more liberal,” according to a report on NPR. “But a new report adds a twist to this: the most educated Americans have grown increasingly liberal over the last couple of decades.

“A report from the Pew Research Center finds a wide partisan gap between highly educated and non-highly-educated Americans. Not only that, but the share of college grads and post-graduates who are ‘consistently liberal’ (based on their answers to a series of policy questions) has grown sharply in the last 20 years.

“‘There’s some pretty good evidence that going to college leads people to have more liberal attitudes on social issues, in particular on issues of tolerance, of difference and issues of gender equity,’ said Neil Gross, sociology professor at Colby College, who has studied liberalism at colleges.

“But then, Gross has also written about evidence that college really doesn’t move people’s broader political beliefs (about, for example, the size of government) that much.

“There are all sorts of reasons why this might be happening. Here are three factors that may be contributing:

“1) General polarization

“The whole nation is becoming more ideologically polarized, Pew has found. And lots of reasons have been proposed for why that polarization may have happened: distrust in government, the racial and religious politics of the 1960s and 70s, even income inequality. So it would make sense that these postgrads and college grads (along with lots of other people) moved farther away from the center.

“‘We’ve known for a while that people with more education tend to be more ideologically consistent than people with less education,’ he said. ‘In some sense it’s not surprising to see that polarization and party sorting is happening most among people who are super highly educated.’

“2) Women

“Another possibility, Gross says, might be the growing numbers of women getting college and advanced degrees. Women also in general tend to vote for Democrats more than men. So as the population of highly educated people grew more female, that may have swung it left.

“3) Insularity

“At work here is the Big Sort: the idea (popularized in the 2008 book by Bill Bishop) that Americans are increasingly living alongside like-minded people — essentially, that the walls of our respective ideological bubbles are getting thicker. Gross proposes that this may be happening especially among the post-grad set.

“‘Americans are increasingly clustering into cities and neighborhoods with people who are like them politically,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if part of what’s going on has to be people with graduate degrees being drawn toward cities where lots of highly educated people work.’

The rest of the report is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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