Conservatism, Anti-Intellectualism, and the Political Failures of the Republican Party:

Jonathan Adler links to David Brooks' op ed arguing that conservative politics has gotten too anti-intellectual. Some of Brooks' points, are I think, well-taken. It is true that Republican politicians often engage in crude intellectual-bashing and that some conservatives embrace ridiculous unscientific ideas, such as denial of evolution in favor of more extreme forms of creationism. Jonathan, in turn, rightly points out that aspects of conservatism - including free market economics - will always have limited appeal to intellectuals.

At the same time, it is far from clear that conservatives are suffering politically because they have lost the support of the more educated classes, as Brooks contends. To the contrary, survey data continue to show that Republican voters, on average, have higher education levels than Democrats do. For example, the 2004 National Election Study (data summarized in Table 7.4 here), show that 45% of college graduates self-identify as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, as do 44% of those with "some" college education. By contrast, only 38% of high school graduates and 20% of those with only a grade school education identify as Republicans. Self-identified "strong Republicans" also have, on average, higher levels of political knowledge than self-identified "strong Democrats." I hasten to add that I do not believe that Republicans tend to be more educated and knowledgeable because education and knowledge necessarily lead people to embrace conservative ideas. The most likely explanation for the correlation between education, political knowledge, and Republican identification is simply that education and knowledge are also highly correlated with income. And we know from many studies, such as Andrew Gelman's excellent recent book, that income is a strong predictor of Republican identification and voting.

Nonetheless, it's hard to argue, as Brooks does, that the Republican Party is slipping because it appeals mostly to the ignorant and uneducated. The real reason for the party's recent electoral setbacks is that voters from a wide range of income classes blame it (with some justice) for the mishandling of the Iraq War, the poor condition of the economy, and other policy failures. Republican politicians who think that political impact of these failures can be offset by ramping up their attacks on intellectuals and "coastal elites" are probably mistaken. But so too are those who think that the party's problems can be solved by increasing its appeal to what Brooks calls "the educated class."

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Conservatism, Anti-Intellectualism, and the Political Failures of the Republican Party:
  2. Brooks on Conservative Anti-Intellectualism: