Update: Click here for the most recent statistics.
A surprising amount of anti-conservative bigotry on the web asserts that conservatives are inherently less intelligent than liberals. Admittedly, some prominent conservatives make statements that go against the mainstream scientific consensus on topics such as global warming and Darwin’s theory of evolution. That said, these examples do not mean that being a conservative automatically implies a lower IQ or education level than being a liberal does.
I decided to run the numbers to test this assertion, and it turns out it is not true. However, a far more interesting pattern emerges that confirms a theory I have always held, but had never taken the time to test.
In my opinion, certain liberal policies appear to have an underlying paternalistic tone. They hold that the poor and uneducated need the help of wiser government bureaucrats to protect them from themselves. Many liberals believe it is unfair for society to hold people accountable for their own condition. Therefore, the ignorant and benighted conservative voter should just fall in line and let the ivory tower intelligentsia dictate how society ought to run people’s lives. The intellectual is, after all, so much smarter than the average working stiff.
Of course, average working stiffs and/or business owners who have some college or are college graduates have made their own way in the world, have taken risk, and have a strong desire to control their own fates. They resent fiats from a central authority led by a group of over-educated individuals with little or no prior business experience.
To implement this idealistic worldview, mainstream liberalism needs muscle, and that muscle comes from the undereducated masses who stand to benefit from a dogma seeking to redistribute the income earned by others directly to them.
As such, the distribution of liberal and conservative education levels should differ sharply. Liberal education levels should have fatter tails at the low and high ends of the educational spectrum, while conservative education levels should be more concentrated in the middle.
To test my theory, I looked at education levels by voter in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections, as well as the 2006 and 2010 midterm elections. In every case, the share of people with no high school education was higher among people voting for Democratic candidates than it was among people voting for Republican candidates. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in every case, the share of people with a postgraduate education was higher among people voting for Democratic candidates than it was among people voting for Republican candidates.
The voting trends by party and education for each of these elections are listed below:
The 2000 Presidential Election
The 2004 Presidential Election
The 2006 Midterm Election
The 2008 Presidential Election
The 2010 Midterm Election
Based on the above data, it seems clear that people at both the high and low ends of the educational spectrum tend to favor Democratic candidates. Therefore, the assertion that liberals are smarter than conservatives is an overly simplistic notion with little basis in the actual data.