Evidence and research suggests that when more people are educated that there is a direct correlation to more liberal policies.

I recently read an article by Ryan Huber, on the subject that republicans are skeptical of higher education. While they did suggest some very good points, I wanted to divulge more into the educational argument that is the more prominent reason.

Research has shown time-and-time again that higher education tends to produce more left ideologies. But, the research not only shows that but you don’t even have to graduate — you just need to attend higher education and you are more likely to have more liberal-focused ideologies and policies.

For example, a study¹ published by the Pew Research Center lead by Samantha Smith shows that those who have attended graduate school are even farther to the left than those who only have an undergraduate degree.

The research goes onto show the differing levels of political ideologies through different times of education from over six thousand students and alumni members across the country.

More than half of those with postgraduate experience (54%) have either consistently liberal political values (31%) or mostly liberal values (23%), based on an analysis of their opinions (opens new window) about the role and performance of government, social issues, the environment and other topics. Fewer than half as many postgraduates— roughly 12% of the public in 2015– have either consistently conservative (10%) or mostly conservative (14%) values. About one-in-five (22%) express a mix of liberal and conservative opinions.

If you are anything like me and enjoy seeing a progression from one time to another, then let’s go back to this research released in 1994 (nearly 25 years ago!), the share of those with graduate education who held consistently liberal views was seven percent (compared to today’s thirty one percent). The share with mostly or consistently liberal views was 31 percent (compared to today’s fifty-four percent).

If we were to analyze the different areas of education on the liberal side, then NPR had this to say:

Split it out by party, and the shift is even starker. Among the post-grad set, more than half of Democrats and Democratic-leaners today are “consistently liberal,” up from fewer than one-in-five in 1994. Likewise, among college grads, it jumped from 12 to 47. ²

If we want to jump forward another ten years, then we have further research on this same phenomenon in 2004.

Among Democrats* (or more left-leaning individuals) with postgraduate experience, 54% express consistently liberal views, compared with 34% who did so in 2004 and just 16% a decade before that. Among Democratic* college graduates with no postgraduate experience, the proportion that is consistently liberal has nearly quadrupled since 1994, from 12% to 47%.¹

The change in attitudes among Republicans* (and more right-leaning individuals) has followed a very different trajectory over the past two decades. As noted in the 2014 Polarization report, the overall share of Republicans with predominantly conservative political values declined between 1994 and 2004, before rebounding in recent years. This pattern is seen across all educational categories.¹

As you can see there is some major evidence to suggest that college leads people to have more liberal thoughts and ideas due to their direct amount of education and the people surrounding them.

The graph information to the side (for desktop readers) and above (for mobile readers) shows more directly the different ideological sides and the growth between them.

Among Millennials, over a majority of them have more liberal-leaning views, with only four in ten millennial having a mix of both ideologies.

Across older generations, fewer have liberal political values. About a third of Gen Xers (36%) ¹ have at least mostly liberal attitudes, while 23% have mostly conservative attitudes; 41% are mixed ideologically. Among Boomers, more have conservative (36%) than liberal (30%) attitudes; 34% have mixed views. And among Silents, 40% are conservative — including 21% who are consistently conservative — while 26% are liberal and 34% express a mix of conservative and liberal views.

Sizable majorities of older Republicans — 64% of Boomers and 69% of Silents — have at least mostly conservative attitudes across the 10-item scale. More than a quarter of Republican Boomers (28%) and 38% of Republican Silents give down-the-line conservative responses. Both groups have become substantially more conservative over the past decade.

By contrast, only about half of Gen X Republicans (49%) express consistently or mostly conservative views — although that share has roughly doubled, from 24%, since 2004. Only about a third of Millennial Republicans (34%) express at least mostly conservative views, just half the share among Silent Republicans.

We can find more information about why this change in the last twenty-five years is directly explained by the following information from official census data that clearly show that our educational rates are higher than ever.

Pew Research Center graphic, research derived from US Census Data from 1973–2008. ³

The reason why Republicans are skeptical of higher education is because there is a clear link between education and the more liberal ideologies due to an increase in formalized, fact-based, and societal lessons that the average student receives versus those who did not attend or finish a college education.

# High School Education

I want to point out that not only does this trend exist in college education, it starts much earlier with high school graduation rates.

The record share of 18- to 24-year-olds attending college in 2008 comes at a time when a record proportion of young adults have completed high school, either by regular high school graduation or passing an equivalency test. According to Census Bureau figures, in October 2008, almost 85% of 18- to 24-year-olds had completed high school, an all-time high for this basic measure of educational attainment and up from 75.5% in 1967.

That is a major 10% increase graduation rates that shows 2.6 million high school graduates in 1967 is now an average of 3.3 million high school graduates in 2008 which will further increases college education rates due to the pipeline effect. ⁴

Leading conservatives aren’t ‘skeptical’ of higher education due to the success rates, they are terrified of the concept, because that means their ideas became dated and can no longer can hold a majority appeal to the public.

They aren’t skeptical, they are scared.


  1. Smith, Samantha. “A Wider Ideological Gap Between More and Less Educated Adults.” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 26 Apr. 2016, www.people-press.org/2016/04/26/a-wider-ideological-gap-between-more-and-less-educated-adults/. (opens new window)

  2. Kurtzleben, Danielle. “Why Are Highly Educated Americans Getting More Liberal?” NPR, NPR, 30 Apr. 2016, www.npr.org/2016/04/30/475794063/why-are-highly-educated-americans-getting-more-liberal. (opens new window) Accessed 29 Aug. 2017.

  3. Staff, Demographic Internet. School Enrollmentwww.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/school.html. (opens new window)

  4. “Digest of Education Statistics, 2007.” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education, nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d07/tables/dt07_100.asp.

  5. “World’s Population Increasingly Urban with More than Half Living in Urban Areas | UN DESA Department of Economic and Social Affairs.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects.html. (opens new window)

Last Updated: 4/13/2021, 4:49:08 AM