Do classical liberals and social democrats study different things?

The political identity survey included a question that asked graduates and uni students about their major field of study. The idea was to see whether there were significant ideology-related differences in their academic backgrounds.

There were quite a variety of responses, but I have tried to classify them into the following categories: arts, business, economics, law, science and engineering, and what I called ‘social’ degrees, which included education, the health professions, and social work. People who put two major fields of study were sometimes counted twice, if they fitted more than one of my categories. The results for classical liberals (205 respondents) and social democrats (308 respondents) are below.


In broad terms, the groups are quite similar. If we rank them, they appear almost in the same order, with the only difference being that the ‘social’ degrees are smallest for classical liberals and second smallest for social democrats. However, there were some differences in the percentages in various broad fields of study. These broadly conform to expected stereoypes. Classical liberals were more likely to have studied business or economics or law; social democrats were more likely to have studied arts and the ‘social’ degrees.

However, with economics and law both appearing far more frequently in both groups than in the general graduate population, perhaps the conclusion to reach is that people interested in public policy tend to study related fields, regardless of their ideology.

22 thoughts on “Do classical liberals and social democrats study different things?

  1. I reckon that engineers and scientists are ‘social democrats’ mainly because they can’t be bothered getting too analytical about social questions (since they’re paid to get analytical about other stuff) and those in the arts simply lack the ability to do so 😉

    Of course, this does not mean that lawyers and economists are coming up with the right answers necessarily. Just that they prefer more structure to their thinking.


  2. I think you need to distinguish between science and engineering. The stereotype is that scientists are idealists while engineers are practical no nonsense people. Whether you believe the stereotype, engineers have traditionally been the most conservative of students, in terms of image (football playing, beer drinking, flannelette shirt wearing) and voting in student politics.


  3. I’ll take a look at the engineers separately tonight if I get time; unfortunately this exercise is time consuming because of the various ways people describe their study requires a lot of individual examination and classification, eg ‘Engineering’, ‘B. Eng’, ‘mining engineering’ etc.


  4. On the other hand Engineers are quite used to the idea of working backwards from the end requirements to a complete top-down system design, with all parameters tightly specified.

    The free market looks to us like any other closed-loop control system, which require careful analysis to verify that they are sufficiently damped – otherwise a large disturbance to the system will cause a chaotic response.


  5. Price is supposed to act as a feedback mechanism, is it not? A high price induces more suppliers to enter the market? A low price encourages more consumers?


  6. (Whereas ineffective command economies are the open-loop case – “There shall be 12000 Trabants produced in September”).


  7. Splitting science from engineering would be interesting. In my experience (having worked in both science and engineering departments) the degree structures and are quite different (there is some convergence in postgraduate research degrees). In the debates about creationism, there has been a perception that engineers are far more likely too be creationists than scientists.


  8. derisory of demand and supply i mean.

    ummm… which does predict economic cycles of course due to lags in the system.

    but its interesting that the current cycle – caused by non-economic stuff (broadly speaking) – seems to be recovering faster than the lags caused by production/consumption mismatch would suggest.

    which implies there is other stuff to be included if the model was to be realistic.


  9. Well, remember that in the market for money/debt, the lag in scaling up production is _much_ shorter than it is in the market for widgets. You don’t have to tool up a new production line to issue more debt.


  10. But wouldn’t the reduction of lag create higher-frequency cycles, not slow ramp up (over 10 years?) followed by a – what – 40% drop in a couple of months?
    Unless some loops are switched on and some switched off so as to give the varying response rate at different times.
    But why? Who or what is doing the switching? This is where the poor regulation and corrupt activity comes in, but I don’t think economics covers that.


  11. Ken M says:


    In the debates about creationism, there has been a perception that engineers are far more likely too be creationists than scientists.

    Possibly, however since you’re always looking for irrefutable relationships Ken I would argue that creationism could actually be seen as an excellent marker for success in science.

    Judaism is actually a religion based on creationism and Jews, particularly Jewish-Americans have swept the Noble Prize in various sciences.

    So wouldn’t you agree,therefore that creationism is therefore strongly correlated to success in science?


  12. JC, this is pretty off topic so I’ll make this my last post on this topic on this thread, but I don’t agree for a number of reasons:

    * I specifically mean creationism, as in denial of Darwinian evolution. This is different to the majority of Jews.
    * Even if you assume that Judaism is a form of creationism (which I don’t), it doesn’t follow that Jew’s who do well at science are creationists, because scientists are such a small self-selected proportion of the population with distinct traits.
    * Creationists (irrespective of religion) have never done well in Nobel prizes.
    * Atheists and agnostics are the religious grouping that punch way above in weight in gaining science Nobels.

    And as this is way off topic, I’m going to stop.


  13. Ken

    It seems you have a soft spot for creationists. However the real question is which ones.

    Specifically do you have a problem with all types of creationists….?

    Old earthers

    young earthers

    intelligent designers

    Judaism is a religion based on creationism. How could it not be if it is biblically based.

    Creationists (irrespective of religion) have never done well in Nobel prizes.

    Oh please.


  14. Not a single orthodox jew has won a Nobel Prize.. Many with a jewish background have, but religion is one thing and science is quite another.

    An orthodox jew did win the Bank of Sweden Nobel award for mathematics but that is not officially a Nobel Prize.

    Back to the Birdcage for you JC.


  15. Furthermore, Swedes as distinctive linguistic group have won more Nobel Prizes per capita than the jewish linguistic groups have.

    The prizes are awarded in Sweden, so there is a skew here. Not just towards the Swedes but because Sweden likes to promote jewish thinkers in Germany, Austria and England. Possibly because these are the countries with the longest running (England 700 year ban) and most virulent (Germany) strains of antisemitism. Sweden did fancy itself as a world power at times in the past..


  16. Science and arts grads are often amongst the lowest paid on average and are possibly more likely to rely on social welfare, and social degrees often rely on the system of social welfare for employment.

    Ironically, it is libertarian self interest that may drive graduates in these fields to social democratic attitudes.


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