James Paterson had an op-ed in yesterday’s Weekend Australian arguing that uni graduates lean left, and blaming it in part on academic bias.
I had a look at the party id question in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 and the differences by qualification level are certainly striking. However people with TAFE certificates and diplomas have similar affiliations to people with bachelor degrees, despite the fact that there are few ‘political’ courses taught by these institutions.
On the other hand, those who spend longer at university, postgraduates, end up with more left-wing affiliations than bachelor degree holders. This leaves open the possibility of a ‘university’ effect on political views.
Party identification (%)
Traditional political science holds that socialisation/social factors are the major sources of political affiliations and views. I think this is right, so given that most people go to uni at a time when they are forming their adult identity – including their political identity – it is plausible that the general political environment on campus affects long-term political affiliations.
Academic political ‘bias’ may not be right way to describe this. Though James says he has experienced it, most people simply aren’t doing subjects that lend themselves to academic expression of political views, and many of those who are have as teachers professionals who offer balanced courses and fair marking.
This said, the campus political culture does assume that social democracy or further left is normal, while right-of-centre political views are regarded as unusual or an aberration. It would not be surprising if this attitude was internalised by some students.
Though university comes at a crucial time in most people’s identity formation, it is also a relatively short time in most people’s lives. People spend far more time at work than at university. Scott Steel has shown that electorates with high proportions of people working in Arts & Recreation Services, Information Media and Telecommunications and Education are more likely to support the Greens.
There weren’t enough graduates in the AuSSA 2009 working in those industries to look into this further, but I did try a rough division between industry occupations that were primarily for-profit and those that tended to be public sector. Graduates working in the private sector were clearly more likely to be Coalition supporters than those in the public sector. But the same underlying views may lead people to both work in the public sector and support Labor.
Another contrast that has appeared in the political science literature is gender, and there are significant differences, with female graduates more likely to be left-wing.
Unfortunately there was no question in the AuSSA 2009 on major field of study, and the gender differences may just reflect that rather than the sexes seeing political views differently (though women make up 60% of graduates, the imbalances are more extreme for relatively politicised faculties such as arts and education).
On the other hand, I would not be surprised if gender did end up being a factor. A major driver of the expanding state is the demand that it assist women both perform their traditional family roles and pursue careers. Middle-class graduates are among the principal beneficiaries of this trend, and it would not be surprising if this was reflected in their political allegiances.
While academic ‘bias’ is a bad thing, I suspect that even with all academics conducting themselves in a fully professional way we would still see the broad sociological patterns evident in the political partisanship polling.