A long-standing complaint of the political right is that academia displays a strong liberal bias. In a recent op-ed, Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle discusses two recent studies that document the overwhelmingly prevalence of Democrats among academics:
Then step back into the real world, where academia has become a solid bastion of the Left, as demonstrated by two articles in the latest issue of the scholarly journal Current Review. One article presents a survey of academic social scientists that reports that 79.6 percent of 1,208 respondents said they voted mostly Democratic over the last 10 years, with 9.3 percent voting Republican.
Call that a near monopoly marketplace of ideas.
A second article studied the voter registration of California college professors and found that the ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans (among professors located in voting registers) is 5 to 1. Let it be noted that the researchers made an effort to include schools reputed to be right-leaning. Some disciplines demonstrated more orthodoxy than others -- with sociology departments showing a ratio of 44 Democrats to 1 Republican, but economics departments employing 2.8 Democrats for each member of the GOP.
Thus, the dispoportionate share of Democrats is not in serious dispute. And no one who has spent time in academia would find any reason to think otherwise.
The facts raise an interesting question, however, and one that should trouble right-wing critics of the current situation: why is liberal dominance of academia a problem given that it represents a market outcome? That is, if liberal academics are so bad, why does the market support so many of them? Why is there not a demand for conservative universities? If one believes markets do things right, in what sense is the liberalism in academia excessive?
A possible response from conservatives might be that higher education is not a competitive market; a substantial fraction of higher education is owned and operated by state governments. This line is not persuasive, however, since many of the most successul colleges and universities are private, and they are every bit as liberal as their government counterparts.
So free-market critics of the liberal "bias" in academia need to think through their criticism. In what sense is Democratic predominance a problem? And what "market failure" is responsible?
Perhaps the truth is that many conservatives do not really believe in competition; instead they want conservative ideas imposed because these ideas are not doing well in the marketplace.