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Political polarization of professions

Seeing this newspaper article, “In an outraged Louisville, a Police Force in Crisis,” made me think of this discussion from a few years ago.

What happened was that a group of psychology researchers wrote an article, “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science,” arguing that the field of social psychology would benefit from the inclusion of more non-liberal voices (here I’m using “liberal” in the sense of current U.S. politics). In our discussion, Neil Gross and I wrote that “when considering ideological balance, it is useful to place social psychology within a larger context of the prevailing ideologies of other influential groups within society, such as military officers, journalists, and business executives.”

Survey researchers have looked this from various directions; for example here:

and here, using more general occupation categories:

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Political leanings of educators, police officers, and business executives seems like more of a big deal than political leanings of doctors or roofers. Teachers and cops interact with students and the general public in ways where it seems that their political leanings could make a real difference, and businesspeople can directly influence government policy through lobbying, political donations, and directly running for office themselves.

I’m not sure what could or should be done about this, though. Would we want proportional representation in all professions? How would this be implemented? Would teachers and police officers have to take a political quiz before starting their job, and then only be hired if they fill the quota? Would businesses be required to submit reports on their leaders’ politics?

On the other hand, the lack of any feasible resolution of this issue—that professions differ in their politics from the general population—should not be taken to imply that it’s not a concern. I’m just not quite sure what to say about it.

51 Comments

  1. David Marcus says:

    If all (or the various) political views were logical and valid, then you could make an argument for them to be represented. But, since they aren’t, why would you want that?

    • Andrew says:

      David:

      I think the idea is that the political views are already out there in the population. Americans are approximately 30% Democrats, 30% Republican, and 40% Independent—ok, it varies over time, with Democrats generally having the slight edge, as can be seen recent national elections Or, if you ask about political ideology, approx 35% conservative, 25% liberal, and 35% moderate. Given that, it’s an imbalance if the vast majority if some profession or some powerful group is overwhelmingly supporting one party or the other.

      It’s not clear how much this imbalance is a problem, and even less clear what could be done about it (assuming you want to do something about it at all), but it’s there.

      • David Marcus says:

        The way people vote is affected by the rules. These rules are usually created by the people with power. For example, there is no reason why you have to let people (and things that aren’t people) spend money to influence how people vote the way the U.S. currently does. (I believe the rules were different when I was young. I think the party in power at the time thought changing the rules would be good for them, but it turned out to be a mistake. I may have my history wrong, but it is certainly true that the current rules are awful.) Nor is there any reason why you have to make it hard to vote by making people vote on a work day. Some countries require everyone to vote. And the electoral college has a racist history: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/11/electoral-college-racist-origins/601918/ . As for how people label themselves, this is influenced by many of the same things. It is unfortunate that people often don’t realize the best way to make the world a better place for themselves and others. I think the categorizations that the political parties push are too vague. You need to ask about specific things. And, no one says “liberal” anymore since the conservatives managed to give it a bad connotation. Of course, politicians lie. If they stopped lying, I suspect your percentages would change quite a bit. Democrats, Republicans, Independents may be how people are registered, but it does not reflect the types of candidates. We currently have Republicans, corporate Democrats, and progressive Democrats. In other countries, they might be three parties, but the rules in the U.S. make it hard to have more than two parties.

    • Bradley says:

      @DavidMarcus: “If all (or the various) political views were logical and valid…”

      so who decides what views are logical and valid– and how do they do that?

      American government institutions (including laws, police, education) are based on democratic Majority-Rule (in theory at least)– not rational logic.
      The majority steers the bus, no matter the psychological makeup of that majority.

      Do you agree with the basic concept of democracy?

      • Matěj G. says:

        I just want to point out that democracy is not the same as majority rule. Moreover, the US political system is far from an “ideal” pluralist democracy. It was specifically designed, in the words of James Madison, to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority”. In effect, it’s concentrated power and capital groups that control the politics and economy of the country, i.e. “the majority of wealth steers the bus” would be a more precise characterisation.

  2. Matt Skaggs says:

    “but it’s there”

    Is it there? The entire US political spectrum is shifted so far to the right. Very few Americans self-identify as socialists and almost none as communists. Perhaps what we see are psychologists that hew pretty close to the middle by world standards, but seem liberal by American standards. I’m willing to accept that the far right is underrepresented, but as Mr. Marcus asks, why would we want that to change?

    • Dzhaughn says:

      Perhaps because you are concerned that your political party will gradually become deaf to the concerns of a profession (with a different political outlook) that is important to your city?

      Maybe your city doesn’t need anyone to own and rent office space, run stores. Or doesn’t need police officers, or teachers, or lawyers, or construction workers.

      There are softer versions of the same phenomena. Maybe you will still have a construction firm or two, but maybe their competition will become disinterested, leaving them with a monopoly on your business.

  3. Lucas Hahn says:

    If society were to decide that proportional political representation in all professions is desired, would that not apply to religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics too?

  4. jonathan says:

    Say what? If this is about police, I’ve spent a lot of time around them. One side of the story which is not told is that working as a cop exposes you repeatedly to the worst in human beings. I’ve known many liberals who are cops. They also tend to be conservatives, meaning that they may be gay and believe in universal healthcare but they see domestic abuse and much worse every day so they have little to no belief in liberal conceptions of how people will act and do act. Those ideas are invalidated by their daily experience. At the same time, this attitude often shows in extreme caring for individuals. (An anecdote, a latchkey kid I knew had spiraled into heroin and her parents were futile, but the police got involved in her life, and they pushed her family into getting her into residential care. She’s a doctor now. Stories like this are not uncommon.)

    If you work as a cop in a city, you deal with people who prey on their neighbors. Their people are typically the most immediately vocal because they are directly connected to those who intimidate the rest. (Others are attached by political desires for reform, by other ideas, etc.) Social cohesion in higher crime areas is low or fragile. It is not an easy job. The threat of violence is always there. I remember when the air traffic controllers went on strike and they talked about stress. My comment was stress is being a cop in Detroit: two cars in an alley, you can see something happening, and it’s your job to get out of your car and walk over knowing this could be the end of your life.

    As a note, I believe in reducing police pay and changing the social approach. In MA, the highest paid public employees all over the state are police. One recent irony came out: who benefits from opening legal pot stores? The police. In my town, the police have made $2M in detail pay plus payments made to their budget by the store. They are by far the largest beneficiaries. And the many rewards we give them has not materially raised the quality of local police. As to social approach, after 9/11, the approach demanded politically all over the country was that everything needed to be treated as a potential threat. Threats need to be put down. We are reaping a policy we as a public (and the media) demanded post 9/11. The corollary of ‘you cant be careful enough’ is ‘you cant be careful enough’ applied to individuals who are not but are feared to be terrorists. The shift was from de-escalation as strategy to escalation as strategy because in a terror situation you must escalate as fast as possible. This extends to school shootings: the police are heavily criticized for not charging in. So we demand action. Then we demand the people not act. And that they know which situation is which right away.

    BTW, for doctors, they make decisions about specialities in part based on money. But there are gatekeepers. So Orthopedic surgeons make a lot because they do surgery, which charges a lot, and because their expertise is limited and because the gates keep the numbers low, so those who end up in that tend to have a series of personal characteristics. Can you unbundle those characteristics? I mean: statisticians have certain characteristics, so you tell me how you can pull apart the natures of those who ‘apply’ to become statisticians.

    Sorry for the rambling.

    • gec says:

      Your first two paragraphs not only mirror my own experiences, so +1 for anecdotal evidence, I guess.

      You also bring up an important point that political attitudes are shaped by experiences, which are in turn shaped by profession. So even if we could somehow enforce a uniform distribution of attitudes when people enter a profession, chances are they’d quickly converge to a different distribution that reflects their experiences.

  5. James says:

    It’s expected that an academic would have nonsensical views of business executives, but somehow I didn’t expect it from Gelman.

    Every single person can influence politics by lobbying and donations, and can run for office. All they need is money. So there’s nothing special about “business executives” here. Let’s not even get started on professional associations, which are ostensibly made up of “regular working people” yet often manage to get competition legislated away.

    • Andrew says:

      James:

      Every single person can influence politics by lobbying and donations, but some people have more influence than others. If you want to be a lobbyist, you’ll be more effective if you have the power to build or close an office somewhere that can employ hundreds of people. This is not absolute influence—business executives lose, sometimes—but resources matter. I agree with you that executives of professional associations have lobbying power too—indeed, that’s the whole point of many professional organizations, that they can influence policy in some way. I can’t see why you think it’s “nonsensical” to think that business executives have a large influence on the government.

      • jim says:

        “I can’t see why you think it’s “nonsensical” to think that business executives have a large influence on the government.”

        Let’s hope they do have a large influence on the government, since business drives the economy which in turn funds pretty much everything.

        • Ben says:

          > Let’s hope they do have a large influence on the government

          Well I’m pretty sure they do but I would like them to not.

          • jim says:

            “Well I’m pretty sure they do but I would like them to not.”

            Hey! Just like Venezuela!

            • The main business of Venezuela is oil, which is nationalized and therefore owned by the government. This means the government *is* the business, and therefore the the business leaders 100% run the government (you could as well say the govt leaders 100% run the business, but it’s the same). I’d guess that at the top, those guys are doing GREAT.

              Running the govt for the business leader’s benefit is the road to ruin. It always benefits the business leaders to simply take money at gunpoint from the populace. Eventually that is what happens.

              Of course, running the government without regard for whether business is working well is also a road to ruin. But one can’t measure how well businesses are doing by how much cash they are taking in in the presence of policy that transfers wealth from consumers to businesses. So, one has to be very careful in the econometrics of business success. Simple dollar amounts won’t work outside of a laissez-faire highly competitive non-protectionist regime.

              • Chris Wilson says:

                I basically agree. However it’s important to note that Chavez did in fact invest a lot of oil money into populist programs to help many people in Venezuela. The trouble is running a leftist social state on a single commodity that is susceptible to price crashes is not very resilient long term. Sure sure there was probably plenty of corruption all along. But let’s not forget that due to the Monroe doctrine and the Cold War, the US has been exerting hegemonic influence throughout Latin America forever and is openly hostile to any leftist government. It’s a tough row to hoe!

              • jim says:

                My point about Venezuela was that Chavez took over the national oil company, ran it against the advice of the business class, and destroyed it’s ability to generate wealth.

          • jim says:

            “Well I’m pretty sure they do but I would like them to not.”

            Seriously though, why do you (and Martha) say and think that? What is it about business that you find so unpalatable? You’re here reading this blog so you’re educated and surely aware that every penny of public spending has to come from businesses. Chances are good you buy stuff from businesses all the time – I mean obviously you have a computer or a smartphone.

            I’m just curious how you square the circle that all the comforts you live with come from something you apparently don’t like.

            • People can like businesses, and not want those businesses to be able to wield the power of guns and police forces to forcibly transfer wealth to themselves.

              • jim says:

                “People can like businesses, and not want those businesses to be able to wield the power of guns and police forces to forcibly transfer wealth to themselves.”

                I can’t recall ever supporting any such thing.

                But sometimes I wonder if you really understand politics. There is no world in which enlightened individuals advocate for the best interests of other people. Business advocates for it’s interests. NGO’s for theirs, unions for theirs, Professors for theirs. Everyone claims that what they want is best for everyone, and all of them are lying. They’re just advocating their own self-interests. And what’s best for professors and NGOs isn’t necessarily or more likely to be better for society than what’s best for business.

              • jim says:

                “The bigger point here is that this is an example of something I see a lot, which is a social scientist or pundit coming up with theories to explain some empirical pattern in the world, but it turns out the pattern isn’t actually real.”

                :)

                Or politician or political interest group.

                But you have to admit there is a large component on the Progressive side of the world that views business with deep suspicion.

                By the way, when I talk about “business” people keep changing that to “big business”. I don’t support “big business” or “small business”. Just business. On the other hand, if you want to build a medical device, you’ll need a significant regulatory compliance department, which means you can’t stay small very long.

              • Martha (Smith) says:

                I think this comment (by Daniel Lakeland) from Andrew’s link makes some important points on how many people view business: https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2019/03/26/people-like-big-business/#comment-1002811

              • jim says:

                “I think this comment (by Daniel Lakeland) from Andrew’s link makes some important points on how many people view business:”

                Perhaps. But I’d dispute many of those points.

                Amazon: I used to hate Amazon but I’ve come ’round. The argument that Amazon prospered because it’s customers didn’t have to pay sales tax is just plain bogus. Amazon survived and prospered because it created a technology business – cloud hosting – and used the profits from that to support it’s money-losing retail business.

                Broadband: If you look at the roads around where I live it’s very very hard to believe that cities are going to build cheaper and better broadband networks than companies. And if you look at the roads you’d probably think broadband is the last thing they should be spending their money on.

                Pharma and Drugs: I agree that “Big Healthcare” works to prevent competition through regulation. However, they do this with not only the knowledge and consent, but also the blessing, of politicians. Politicians created the bureaucratic regulatory structure that has no accountability to the public, because they want to use it for their own means.

              • Andrew says:

                “Amazon survived and prospered because it created a technology business – cloud hosting – and used the profits from that to support it’s money-losing retail business.”

                This is actually a good argument for why Amazon should be split. If you can’t actually figure out how to get your core business profitable, so much so that you need to rely on a separate business model that is not even closely adjacent, then perhaps that core business needs some major restructuring.

              • I don’t hate Amazon at all. The service they provide is tremendous. But it’s DEFINITELY the case that a decade of charging 10% less than everyone else (from about 1997 to 2007? approx) because you’re not collecting CA or NY or IL state taxes made for a huge unfair advantage. One I took considerable advantage of by the way. And they didn’t have a dominant AWS platform from 1997 to 2005 or so, so it can’t explain their growth pre 2005

              • Chris Wilson says:

                Here is a detailed thesis on how and why to break up Amazon. They are extremely anti-competitive, monopolistic rent-seekers. They are also very clever at disguising their nature to consumers and hood-winking everyone into the illusion of a competitive market of services. They are extremely bad news if you value small business, medium business, and any semblance of an open and competitive market on the supplier side.
                https://www.economicliberties.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Working-Paper-Series-on-Corporate-Power_5-FINAL.pdf

              • Chris, thanks for that document.

                While I love the service that Amazon provides of letting me shop for things online and getting them with relatively rapid and efficient delivery. I’d absolutely welcome a dramatically more competitive online marketplace. Strangely it seems like WalMart might be the biggest hope for a decent competitor to Amazon, but in any case, I’m in favor of seeing a proposal to break Amazon into a number of separate concerns: AWS, the online store, a delivery service, etc. I’d like to see an analysis of why this would be a good thing for competition etc.

                Amazon is hardly the only situation like this. Right now we’re seeing a major problem with Apple and Google app stores being de-facto govt protected monopolies. In fact Google is claiming they’re going to make it easier to install alternative app stores on Android. I think this is directly in response to a threat of the application of anti-trust laws.

            • Dale Lehman says:

              jim
              This is a bit out of the flow, since there is a limit on how many responses to responses this blog allows. But it is in the general vicinity. You have repeatedly expressed the fairly standard economic view of self-interest and that incentives drive behavior. Indeed, I have been trained in that view and find it is usually closer to explaining behavior than any other assumption about what motivates people’s actions.

              But that is a very different thing than saying that it is ok. What I find most tragic about American politics (and probably world politics) presently, is that there is little room for anything other than self-interest. Politicians appeal to us on the basis of what they can do for us. The idea that there are higher goals or anything other than self interest seems to have faded away from all discourse. If you are thinking that those that espouse these higher views are really masking their self-interest – then I’ll agree with you. That has always been true of many (if not most) people’s stated views, and it has always bothered me. But, again, that does not mean we should shed all pretenses that there is nothing more than self-interest.

              If we are to live in a civil society, then we must be capable of civility. We must be able to have multiple selves – a public self that limits what our private self-interest does. We are rapidly losing this public self (and it was relatively weak to begin with). So, the fact that much of what we enjoy is the fruit of self-interested business is not the point. Much of what we have enjoyed – and a great deal of what we need – is the result of tempered self-interest. In some cases, it is even the selfless acts that take place despite self-interest, that are the best examples of what I think humans are capable of. Most of the empirical evidence is on your side – that self interest is ubiquitous, even when people present themselves as pursuing the “public good.” But what concerns me is that this empirical fact should not be an excuse for giving up on there being anything else.

              I feel like you are espousing a moral standard that anything that results from self-interest is justified – change the rules if you don’t like the results. Businesses do good things, therefore if they have money to influence politicians, don’t complain. Can’t we distinguish between what people “can” do and what they “should” do? If we can’t, then aren’t we abandoning our ability to be more than the sum of our self-interests?

              • Martha (Smith) says:

                Dale said,
                “If we are to live in a civil society, then we must be capable of civility. We must be able to have multiple selves – a public self that limits what our private self-interest does. We are rapidly losing this public self (and it was relatively weak to begin with). So, the fact that much of what we enjoy is the fruit of self-interested business is not the point. Much of what we have enjoyed – and a great deal of what we need – is the result of tempered self-interest. In some cases, it is even the selfless acts that take place despite self-interest, that are the best examples of what I think humans are capable of. Most of the empirical evidence is on your side – that self interest is ubiquitous, even when people present themselves as pursuing the “public good.” But what concerns me is that this empirical fact should not be an excuse for giving up on there being anything else.”

                + many!

        • > Let’s hope they do have a large influence on the government, since business drives the economy which in turn funds pretty much everything.

          Jim consistently expresses views along these lines, and they seem to me to be relatively naive about what the influence would be. I imagine him imagining business leaders coming to congress and saying things like “We should eliminate trade restrictions, reduce unnecessary regulations, and provide funds to expand the availability of international high speed internet “

          And, maybe if you asked a bunch of small business owners, like ones with businesses valued at less than $10M you might even get that sort of thing. But in reality, what happens is ATT and Verizon and Google and Apple and Charter/Spectrum and Archer Daniels Midland and Disney show up and say essentially “Give us money, for no other reason than we’re big and powerful, We’ll promise to do something politically useful to you as long as you don’t actually enforce any of those promises because we won’t be actually doing any of them, oh and pass these laws that make it illegal for small businesses or foreign businesses to compete with us, and close off our competitors in China and stop anyone from importing sugar that competes with our corn syrup, also create a special class of slaves for us by passing immigration laws that let us bring highly trained foreign workers into the country and then hold over their heads the threat of immediate deportation if they don’t work long hours at substantially lower wages than the home-grown talent wants.”

          so no, it’s not a good thing that large businesses get to write the laws and heavily influence govt.

          • jim says:

            “so no, it’s not a good thing that large businesses get to write the laws and heavily influence govt.”

            That depends on the laws, not the businesses. Large businesses aren’t exactly lining up to eliminate regulation. It’s an immense barrier to competition. And if the regulations can be made by technocrats and bureaucrats buried in the bureaucracy, so much the better, because a large business has the wherewithal to “build relationships” with those people outside the spotlight that protect their interests.

            I don’t support large businesses per se. I’d love to see more competition. But that would mostly involve eliminating regulation, not creating more.

            Whatever the case, I’m quite sure we’re much better off with business than without it.

            • > I don’t support large businesses per se. I’d love to see more competition. But that would mostly involve eliminating regulation, not creating more.

              That’s my point exactly. I don’t favor more regulation either. If you were going to point to a common public policy position that approximates mine it’d be Reason magazine or something. For the most part I favor undoing all the regulations that large companies are able to regulatory-capture to transfer money into their own coffers, prevent competition, and raise prices on consumer goods well above the prices that would obtain in a relatively fully competitive market.

              However the impression you give is that you think letting businesses write the laws would be a good thing because then business would become stronger and our country would be better off.

              My own impression is that they’d simply make themselves wealthy by transferring funds to themselves and keeping competition down and prices up. And I think my position has historical support compared to the idea that somehow they’d create a deregulated competitive high-efficiency panacea.

              • jim says:

                “My own impression is that they’d simply make themselves wealthy by transferring funds to themselves “

                Sounds as much like any city government or NGO as it does a business.

              • anon e mouse says:

                Who are these wealthy city governments? The currency of local government is power, not currency, for the most part. I live in one of the larger metro areas in the US and work in local government, and the only people who make any money off of the various crooked stuff that goes on (and to be clear, crooked stuff does go on) are the connected businesspeople and consultants who have the ability to help the elected officials stay in power. Even the head of my large agency, whose salary is fairly extravagant for the public sector, is making a tiny fraction of what he could make if he switched teams and did business development on the contracting/consulting side.

              • Martha (Smith) says:

                anon e mouse said,
                “Who are these wealthy city governments? The currency of local government is power, not currency, for the most part. I live in one of the larger metro areas in the US and work in local government, and the only people who make any money off of the various crooked stuff that goes on (and to be clear, crooked stuff does go on) are the connected businesspeople and consultants who have the ability to help the elected officials stay in power. Even the head of my large agency, whose salary is fairly extravagant for the public sector, is making a tiny fraction of what he could make if he switched teams and did business development on the contracting/consulting side.”

                Thanks for this empirical information!

          • Martha (Smith) says:

            Daniel Lakeland said,
            “And, maybe if you asked a bunch of small business owners, like ones with businesses valued at less than $10M you might even get that sort of thing. But in reality, what happens is ATT and Verizon and Google and Apple and Charter/Spectrum and Archer Daniels Midland and Disney show up and say essentially “Give us money, for no other reason than we’re big and powerful, We’ll promise to do something politically useful to you as long as you don’t actually enforce any of those promises because we won’t be actually doing any of them, oh and pass these laws that make it illegal for small businesses or foreign businesses to compete with us, and close off our competitors in China and stop anyone from importing sugar that competes with our corn syrup, also create a special class of slaves for us by passing immigration laws that let us bring highly trained foreign workers into the country and then hold over their heads the threat of immediate deportation if they don’t work long hours at substantially lower wages than the home-grown talent wants.”

            so no, it’s not a good thing that large businesses get to write the laws and heavily influence govt.”

            + many

  6. Jason says:

    This is sort of resurrecting a dead thread, but looking at the discussion from a few years ago you link to, I was nonplussed by your (and co-authors’) claim “we have seen no evidence to support the idea that social science fields with more politically diverse workforces generally produce better research.”

    Perhaps you’ve seen no evidence from studies that specifically investigate that very strictly circumscribed question. But no evidence relevant to it?

    Surely Kahan’s cultural cognition results (e.g., that people are worse at solving basic arithmetic problems if the correct answer is politically inconvenient to them) are relevant, for one. Producing good social science research can involve a fair bit of arithmetic.

  7. oncodoc says:

    I’m a guy in the middle of both the income and the left/right axis. My personal take is that the graph is too limited. People are full of lots of thoughts and lots of positions, and self contradiction is common in all of us. There are about 13,000 oncologists in the US. I have encountered quite a spectrum of opinions. Most cluster around a center as all distributions do. However, substantial variation exists. If you delve into it, you will find that many have ideas that don’t fit neatly into the shoeboxes that labels like con/lib imply. I’m pretty liberal on many things but very conservative on others. People are multidimensional making a two dimensional graph rather uninformative. Even looking at just income, there is no uniformity within each specialty. Is a cardiologist making $600,000 more conservative than a orthopedist making $400,000? What happens when we consider East Coast vs West Coast? Big town vs big city? Graduated before 2005 vs later?
    Social sciences are inherently hard. People are not fermions; all neutrons are identical, but people are not.

  8. A.G.McDowell says:

    The possibility that selection for attributes that can be faked will increase the number of fakers is very real, and suggests that well-intentioned measures could destroy social capital.

    I found out some time before my Father’s death that he didn’t believe in God, and was quite proud of never being baptised. In fact, as he was dying of cancer (and knew it) my sister was trying to get a vicar to visit him and he was asking my Mother behind her back to find any excuse she could to put off or cancel any such visit.

    This surprised me because we were regular churchgoers and he had been a church elder (including officiating at communion) and in the summer I used to help him cut the church grass. The answer is that my Father was a primary school headmaster in the state school system in Northern Ireland from about 1950-1980. He believed that it was necessary to have a church connection to pursue this career, and he told stories of other teachers doing much the same thing – revealed when they finally reached the summit of their career and suddenly decided to stop church volunteer work, because it had served its purpose.

  9. Alex says:

    I know that labels are hard, but how do you have “skilled workers”, “non-skilled workers”, and then room for any more categories? Maybe non-workers, but then I think you’ve exhausted the possibilities.

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