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Are STEM people usually conservative or liberal?

  1. Aug 1, 2009 #1
    how would you characterize the usual tendencies of a person in a STEM-related career? there will be a lot of exceptions of course, but what are your observations in general? fiscally, and socially.....

    here's another one of my posts regarding something related
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 1, 2009 #2

    Ivan Seeking

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    I'm sure there is hard data for that. No need for guessing.
  4. Aug 1, 2009 #3


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    I think this goes beyond whether or not you voted for Obama. For example, a friend of mine is a hardcore democrat, even would have worked with the DNC if he wasnt so busy... but extremely conservative fiscally. He offers suggestions even I think are a bit too far "right-wingish". Then of course I know people who are the opposite. Then I know people who are various mixtures of the possibilities. Then there's hte ones who think government shouldnt even exist. Not sure what those people are doing in a State university though...
  5. Aug 1, 2009 #4


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    Based on a 2009 Pew Research survey, 52% of scientists identify as liberal while only 9% identify as conservative (the remaining identify themselves as moderate). Similarly, 55% identify as Democrats while 6% identify as Republican (the remaining identify as independent).

    As a comparison, 13% of scientists do not believe in evolution and 16% off scientists do not believe in global warming.

    The survey was based on a random sampling of 2,533 members of the AAAS, giving the figures a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2009
  6. Aug 1, 2009 #5
    ^ why do you think scientists tend to be liberal?
  7. Aug 1, 2009 #6


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    I think he does so because of the poll which went out and took data.
  8. Aug 1, 2009 #7


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    Well, one hypothesis is that scientists are acting in a self-interested manner. Liberals and the Democratic party seem much more willing to raise and spend public money to fund scientific research than conservatives and republicans. Indeed, while the survey did not specifically ask about reasons for the scientists' political views, the data from the survey support this hypothesis.

    1) 84% of scientists identify a government funding source as one of their most important sources of funding (only 50% identify a non-government source). This holds true even for scientists working in industry (64% of whom identify a government source as a most important source of funding). Therefore, a great majority of scientists rely on government funding.

    2) 46% of scientists say that lack of funding for basic research is a very serious impediment to high-quality research (only 12% say lack of funding is not too serious or not at all serious). Thus, many scientists would likely support politicians who would increase spending on scientific research.

    3) In a poll of the pubic, 51% of those who identified as Democrats supported increasing federal spending on scientific research (versus 25% of Republicans). Furthermore, 21% of Republicans supported decreasing federal spending on scientific research (versus 8% of Democrats). Thus, these data support the notion that the Democratic Party is more likely to support federal spending on science.

    Other hypotheses might include the finding that only 33% of scientists believe in God while 84% of the public does.

    As a scientists myself, I will admit that self-interest is one reason why I identify as liberal and support the Democratic party. However, I would not classify self-interest as the main reason. Many of the important issues for the Democratic Party are also important for me, including increasing the role for the public sector in healthcare and curbing greenhouse gas emissions via increased regulation. I also am in support of liberal social policies (pro-choice, support for gay marriage, tighter gun control laws, disagreement with abstinence-only sex education, etc.). So, while self-interest may be part of the answer, it is not the whole story.

    Perhaps science and academia in general (63% of the scientists surveyed were in academia)--a field with relatively low income for the amount of education necessary when compared to careers in medicine, law, business, finance, etc.--attracts those with more left-leaning tendencies. Indeed, only 33% of the scientists surveyed identified a financially rewarding career as a very or somewhat important reason for entering science. However, I have no data to support my claim that those with less financial motivation are more likely to identify as liberal.

    Regardless of the reason, a president who calls for America to restore science to it's rightful place in society (a statement met with cheers as I watched the inauguration with an auditorium full of chemists) is sure to win over scientists all over the country.
  9. Aug 1, 2009 #8


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    Interestingly enough, this isn't true from what I've heard. Funding tends to be higher during republican presidencies as a lot of money goes towards research that can hopefully eventually be put into military use or something like the space program. At least that's something that was discussed by someone from LLNL when they gave a lecture at our university a few years ago.
  10. Aug 1, 2009 #9
    I have very little faith that Obama waving a magic wand over the science proble will solve anything. It's a cultural issue, not a political one. Most peope have pudding for brains and can't be arsed to add two numbers together in their head, much less care or understand science. Science is 'geeky', after all. If we want to raise science out of this situation, it needs to be on the educational and media level, not throwing more money at research or foundations (though I'm sure msot scientists wouldn't compain).
  11. Aug 1, 2009 #10
    One thing I'd like to see is tendencies among subfields. Compare scientists and engineers and mathematicians and compare different fields of science and different fields of engineers.

    For example, how do biologists, chemists, and physicists compare on measures of liberalness? How do mechanical, computer, electrical, and biomedical engineers compare on measures of liberalness?
  12. Aug 1, 2009 #11
    Currently, I would be more concerned about the following rather than those social issues:

  13. Aug 1, 2009 #12
    ^ Whoops, missed a word. I meant "not JUST throwing more money at research or foundations".
  14. Aug 1, 2009 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    Great answer!

    I think this question, though, begs the question "with respect to what"? Scientists are more liberal than society as a whole. But science faculty are more conservative than college faculty as a whole.
  15. Aug 1, 2009 #14


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    You can find the breakdown among subfield here (scroll down to the Party Affiliation among Scientists box). The composition of the scientists surveyed is http://people-press.org/report/?pageid=1547 [Broken].

    Of the categories listed (Biological and Medical; Chemistry; Geosciences; Physics and Astronomy), chemists had the highest fraction of Republicans (9%) and lowest fraction of Democrats (49%). Geoscientists had the highest fraction of Democrats (62%) and lowest fraction of Republicans (4%). However, because of the somewhat small number of scientists represented in each category, I would guess that the differences between scientists of different subfields are not statistically significant. No data were available for mathematicians or engineers.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  16. Aug 1, 2009 #15
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