Are economic graduate students conservative?

Economists are often thought of as conservative, but that was not the case in the previous study [1985] nor in this one.  In this study, 47 percent of the students classified themselves as liberal, 24 percent as moderate, 16 percent as conservative and 6 percent as radical.  (Six percent stated that politics were unimportant to them.)  These percentages are very similar to the last study, although the share of those identifying themselves as radicals declined (from 12 percent).  The students perceived their views as slightly more liberal than those of their parents, 40 percent of whom they classified as liberal, 36 percent as moderate, 16 percent as conservative and 3 percent as radical.

By the way, Chicago graduate students are now less conservative than those at Stanford; Chicago is rapidly losing its uniqueness. 

Do note that "liberal" economists are often fairly conservative, at least relative to the left as a broader political class.  Economics gives plenty of reasons (whether you agree with them or not) to defend government intervention.  At the same time the ideas of cost and constraint remain prominent. 

I view most Ivy League economics graduate students as highly peer conscious.  They want to fit into the views of the intelligentsia surrounding them, and above all they would find membership in the Republican party a source of great social embarrassment.  They are fiscally conservative Democrats who are liberals on social issues, but don’t really much toy with the idea of becoming libertarian.  They prefer to put themselves in the class of "good-thinking people," without always engaging in or welcoming the necessary debates.

The above quotation is taken from David Colander’s article in the Winter 2005 Journal of Economic Perspectives.

The definitive work on the policy views of social scientists is being done by Daniel Klein and Charlotta Stern, read more here.  And I am pleased to announce that Dan will be joining us at George Mason next year as a new member of the faculty.


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