December 29, 2023 - 5:45pm

Why are conservatives disappearing from the professions? One explanation is that Left-modernist cultural sensibilities once confined to academics and bohemians have diffused more widely among the elite.

Academic Kevin Bass this week drew attention to the fact that just 3.4% of American journalists described themselves as Republican in 2022. Among academics, the figure was just 6%. Even among medics, nine in 10 political donations go to the Democrats.

The figure below examines trends within a broader range of American professions. Higher scores on the database‘s scoring system signify a pro-Republican bias, with lower ones revealing a Democratic tilt. Notice that professionals in almost all sectors, even engineers, now trend Democratic. The George W. Bush (post-2000) and Donald Trump (post-2016) eras were accelerants, but the trend is a steady one. While we don’t have similar data for the UK over time, the share of journalists and academics who lean Left in Canada and Britain is largely similar to the US.

These shifts reflect wider ideological changes among the highly-educated. The American National Election Study reveals little change in the political ideology of US university graduates between 1980 and 2000, then a shift from 41-26 conservative-over-liberal in 2000 to 40-33 liberal-over-conservative by 2020.

These changes occurred earlier and faster among Americans with a graduate degree (Masters or PhD). This group went from 40% liberal and 47% conservative in 1980 to a 35-28 liberal advantage in 2000 and then to a 46-31 liberal advantage by 2020. Data on first-year college students shows that the Leftward shift occurred entirely among women after 2004, with the gender gap growing steadily to 14 points by 2017. The entry of women into the professions thus accounts for some of the change.

My research strongly suggests that what is occurring is an international phenomenon, not something specific to Trump or even the US. And donations data, which measures those who are politically active, indicates that professions like law and medicine are becoming more similar to academia and the media. 

This is because the Left-modernist zeitgeist views white people, men and conservatives negatively, and minority groups positively. Due to the realignment of Western parties away from a Left-Right economic axis towards a multiculturalist-nationalist cleavage, cultural attitudes now predict voting and ideology much more than in 1980.

As a result most professionals, especially if young, now vote for the Left. Initially this Left-modernist culture was confined to the professoriate, activists and bohemian creative types. Since the Great Awokening of the mid-2010s, however, social media and the clickbait model of journalism has served as a conveyor belt for it to spread into the wider youth and professional elite milieus. 

Those who are younger or attend elite schools are closer to this culture and therefore tend to be more Left-wing. The figure below shows that among American first-year students, 67% of those attending highly selective colleges are liberal or Left-wing, compared to under half from medium-selective colleges and just 27% attending low-selective colleges (where conservatives are almost as numerous as liberals).

Age is a key dividing line, even among the highly educated, with young elites much more influenced by Left-modernist culture than their elders. In YouGov Profiles data based on 165,000 people being asked whether they are in favour of political correctness, I find academics to be 70–80% PC, at all ages. Among PhD holders who are not academics, those under 40 are as PC as their professors; but barely 30% of PhDs over 60 describe themselves as PC. Those who leave campus to enter the real world move away from this influence to converge with the rest of society. 

Or at least they used to. Given that “we all live on campus now” there is an increasingly progressive atmosphere in most professional spaces. Left-modernism has, since the early 2010s, metastasised into woke extremism, boding ill for the future of our institutions.

Eric Kaufmann is Professor at the University of Buckingham, and author of the upcoming Taboo: Why Making Race Sacred Led to a Cultural Revolution (Forum Press UK, June 6)/The Third Awokening: A 12-Point Plan for Rolling Back Progressive Extremism (Bombardier Books USA, May 14).