education, humanities, social science majors vote more than students in STEM fields

Medford/Somerville, MA – The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life today released an analysis of the voting patterns of millions of college students, examining voter rates by region of the country, field of study, and type of institution.

These findings, based on a first-of-its kind study of the voting records of 7.4 million students at 783 higher education institutions, could inform opportunities for political learning and outreach on campuses in 2016 and beyond.

Major research findings from this study include:

  • Among all fields of study, education/teaching majors voted at the highest rate in 2012 (55%), surpassing the overall average rate of 45% among all students.
  • Students studying the humanities (49%) and the health professions (47%) also voted above the average rate.
  • Voting rates among students in the STEM fields lagged other disciplines by as much as a 20-point margin. Students in the engineering and mathematics/statistics fields voted at the lowest rate: 35%.
  • Among participating institutions, turnout varied considerably by region of the U.S., ranging from a low of 39% in the Southwest (AZ, NM, OK & TX) to a high of 55% in the Plains (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND & SD). See this infographic for the geographical analysis.
  • Overall in 2012, student voting rates at 4-year institutions were slightly higher than at 2-year institutions, though there was essentially no difference between private and public colleges and universities.


“These findings suggest considerable disparities across disciplines, and university leaders should take notice,” says Nancy Thomas, Director of the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University’s Tisch College, which runs the NSLVE study. “The fact that education and humanities majors vote at significantly higher rates than their peers in the STEM disciplines has both policy and political implications. We know that young people who engage in civic life early on develop lifelong habits. Regardless of their chosen field, all college and university students should be educated for democracy.”

A previous NSLVE data analysis showed that college students voted at a rate of 45% in 2012, with those eligible to vote for the first time voting at a lower rate of 40%. Women voted at higher rates than men. Among all racial/ethnic groups, Black students voted at the highest rate (55%). Among Black students, women voted at a rate of 61%, while men voted at 44%, which was similar to the voting rate of white men (45%).

The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education will be using NSLVE data to examine important factors in campus political learning and voting during the 2016 election and beyond.

the most educated Americans are liberal but not egalitarian (2)

On Friday, I argued that the most educated Americans may be the most “liberal,” but liberalism is being defined by a whole set of opinions that cover cultural and international issues as well as economic policies. The most educated Americans are the people with the greatest economic advantages, and they are less economically egalitarian than other people, not more so.

This means that we do not have a “What’s the Matter with Kansas”-style situation, in which the least advantaged have forgotten their own interests, nor a situation in which tenured radicals are turning bourgeois students into socialists. Rather, we have a very standard situation in which the most advantaged people are the least enthusiastic about equality. They just qualify as “liberal” because of opinions on other matters.

Here is an additional graph using 2012 American National Election Study data. The question is “Do you agree strongly that society should make sure everyone has equal opportunity?” I show all the breakdowns for education, race, and ideology that have sufficient samples, in descending order of egalitarianism.
The general pattern is that you’re less likely to support equal opportunity if you’re White, college-educated, or conservative. Individuals in all three categories are the least supportive of all. But note than less than half of liberals who are White and have college degrees strongly favor equality of opportunity.

I also looked at the pattern by age, prompted in part by the phenomenon of young White college students who feel the Bern. But it’s important not to confuse 2 million young Sanders voters with their whole generation. Below are the percentages of all Americans–and Americans who hold college degrees–who strongly favor equality of opportunity, by age. The sample sizes for each point are between 38 and 96 (i.e., smallish), so I wouldn’t pay attention to the specific zigs and zags. The overall pattern is that young adults are more enthusiastic about equality than those in their 20s and 30s, but college grads are less so than their contemporaries, and their elders (50+) are more concerned than they are.

more young people voted in ’72 than ’12

(Washington, DC) This graph shows two trends: the number of US citizens between the ages of 18 and 29, and the number of 18-29s who voted.
voting trend

The number of young voters fell from 122 million 1972 to 114 million in 2012, despite an increase of about four million in the number of eligible citizens under 30. That means that young voters had considerably less clout in 2012 than in 1972. They cast 24% of all votes in 1972 but 19% in 2012.

On the other hand, the comparison would look better if one set 1976 against 2008, because the latter was a stronger year for youth turnout. In 2008, the size of the youth population also surpassed the previous highs of the 1970s, producing record numbers of youth and of young voters. But the youth share was still smaller in 2008 (at 16%) then in had been in the 1970s, because of rapid growth in older generations. And then 2012 saw a fall in turnout.

religious liberty and discrimination

If we set aside the invidious motivations for–and the details of–the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it does raise some fairly complex constitutional questions. Here are five theories that one might adopt in response:

1. The law should ban private discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. To deny a regular service to a citizen because she or he is gay is hurtful and cruel and reinforces a whole system or culture of domination that also has serious economic and civic consequences. Therefore, such discrimination can and should be banned.

I endorse the whole premise. The questions are (a) whether the state and law are the appropriate instruments for remedying this problem, and (b) whether a conflicting interest (religious freedom) should be given any weight. We must allow individuals to do some things that we are certain are bad and wrong in order to limit government in the interest of liberty. It is not a free society that permits only good actions. Not any liberty counts, but the establishment and free exercise of religion are two explicit freedoms named in the First Amendment. To deny their relevance not only ignores the constitutional text but suggests that other forms of religious discrimination should also be illegal–for instance, that the Catholic Church should be required to ordain women. This seems a problematic implication.

2. The law should ban private discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, with a special exception for religious freedom. The defendant in a discrimination suit would be required to demonstrate that her or his religion was clearly and stably committed to such discrimination. The defendant’s denomination would then be revealed to hold discriminatory views, with a potential cost to its reputation. If other members of the denomination were moved to contest its position on gay rights, that would be a benefit. Yet the religious liberty of the defendant would be honored.

I endorse some of this argument, but a lot rests on the definition of religion. It seems unjust to give special rights to people who believe in the existence of one or more deities. Just yesterday, the First Church of Cannabis declared its interest in selling marijuana in Indiana under the protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Why not? Also, this approach will involve the state in inquiries into religious doctrines and traditions. Is it really wise to ask a secular court to decide whether, for example, discrimination against gays is rooted in the Talmud or in some specific Protestant tract?

3. Jacob Levy’s suggestion: “private businesses should be free to refuse customers, subject to two categories of exceptions: (a) if the firms are common carriers or (in the common law sense) public accommodations rather than ordinary private retailers and (b) in the United States, due to the constitutional and historical distinctiveness of Jim Crow and its melding of public and private discrimination, discrimination on the basis of race.”

This is a more libertarian view, more protective of individuals’ rights to choose their own contracts and relationships. It carves out a special exemption for racial discrimination in the US. (Levy teaches in Canada and is thinking about these issues globally.) I am not hostile to his position, because liberty is a very high principle and because the state is not our only instrument for changing private behavior. I would also agree that race is a unique case in the US. But a lot hangs here on the seriousness of discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s easy for me–a straight man–to write as if religious freedom can simply be balanced against equality. If I were gay and denied a service on that basis, I would probably feel that my very personhood had been assaulted, not merely as an individual act but as part of a system or culture of oppression that also costs lives. Homophobia is a deadly problem, and perhaps the state should intervene even in private contracts to address it.

4. Forbid discrimination in certain kinds of business. Levy hints at this kind of solution when he mentions “public accommodations,” about which there is a large body of case law, legislation, and scholarship. The basic idea is that McDonald’s should be forbidden from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation (both in hiring and in service), because it operates a mass, transactional enterprise. You pay your money; you get your burger and fries. But Elane Photography (a small New Mexico business) is not running a public accommodation. A more-or-less solo photographer may choose whom to photograph. If she chooses only to photograph opposite-sex weddings, that is allowable under the First Amendment.

I find this distinction somewhat helpful, but there is no bright line between Elane’s and McDonald’s. Furthermore, the mere fact that Elane is a small business does not make its discrimination any less hurtful.

5. Honor the small-r republican principle that the people should govern themselves by deliberating and making law. Let the people decide whether or not to ban discrimination.

I am a small-r republican and believe that collective political freedom is too often overlooked. But who is “the people?” You will get very different laws if Bloomington can decide, if Indiana decides, or if Washington takes up the issue (and probably deadlocks, leaving the status quo in place). Also, the most important reason to restrain the rights of the people to govern themselves is to protect individuals’ rights. But then again, both non-discrimination and free exercise are individual rights. The republican principle doesn’t say which one should trump popular rule.

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nonprofits that serve low-income citizens can boost their turnout

My colleagues and I played a role in the latest report from Nonprofit Vote. I’ve offered the following summary: “Political participation is highly unequal in the United States, and efforts to engage the lowest-income Americans are scattered and under-resourced. One highly promising strategy is to integrate nonpartisan voter registration and outreach into the activities of nonprofits that serve the poorest Americans. The new report from Nonprofit VOTE shows that this approach worked in 2012 and should be strengthened for 2014 and beyond.”

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