January 21, 2017

Party Affiliation, IQ, Political Knowledge, and Formal Education

Everyone likes to think that people of their political persuasion are smarter and wiser than their ideological opponents. Reality, however, has no such biases, and in reality Republicans and smarter than Democrats and know more about politics.
That republicans are smarter than democrats was shown by (Carl 2014). This paper utilized decades worth of data on representative samples of Americans collected by the General Social Survey. It showed that self identified Republicans score higher on intelligence tests than self identified Democrats. Moreover, the stronger participants identified with their party the larger the intelligence gap between Republicans and Democrats was.

Some people may recall seeing evidence to the contrary. They are likely thinking of studies showing that social conservatism is associated with low intelligence. This is true, but social liberals and conservatives is a different set of populations than republicans and democrats. Reviews of the relevant literature show that while socially conservative views predict lower than average intelligence, economically libertarian views predict higher than average intelligence (Carl 2015). Since many Republicans hold socially conservative views while also embracing the free market, no obvious prediction about intelligence and party identification follows from the data on intelligence and ideologue.

It is also worth noting that Republicans remain smarter than Democrats even when only looking at whites. Because of this, the higher intelligence of Republicans cannot be explained by ethnic differences between the parties.

Republicans being smarter, on average, than Democrats, may help to explain why they know more about politics than democrats do. This was the finding produced by a Pew survey of that quizzed 1,168 Americans on current events. Self identified Republicans knew more about politics than self identified Democrats. Similarly, (Kahan et. al. 2012) found that climate “deniers” know more about climate science than believers in man made climate change do.

Republicans also might understand Democrats better than Democrats understand Republicans. This was suggested by (Graham, Nosek, and Haidt 2012), which had participants fill out surveys asking about their moral values as if they were someone of the opposite political persuasion. It found that conservatives were better as predicting how liberals would actually respond to the survey questions than vice versa. In particular, liberals tended to falsely believe that Republicans would report not caring about fairness and harming others when making moral judgments. Of course, all this should be taken with a grain of salt since this study looked at self identified “conservatives” and “liberals” rather than Republicans and Democrats.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, you might predict that republicans would be better educated than liberals, but this isn’t so. Actually, the relationship between education attainment and party identification works such that people who are completely uneducated, or extremely well educated, tend to be Democrats while everyone in the middle tends to be Republicans. This same result is found pretty consistently across many years of exit poll data.

Thus, Republicans are smarter,and know more about politics, but Democrats spend more time in school. To some, this will come across as an inherently biased conclusion. But this is not just an assertion. It is what the data shows. To others, this will be seen as a vindication of the Republican world view. (Whatever that exactly is.) This too would be an erroneous conclusion. The average voter in either party isn’t exceptionally intelligent and is certainly not a political scholar. Because of this, the attributes of the average voter in each party tell us little about the ideologues behind each party. After all, such ideologies, whether they are associated with Democrats or Republicans, are formed by intellectuals are who far smarter and more knowledgeable than the average voter. Thus, there isn’t much of substance that can be drawn from this data other than the the smug intellectual superiority which many liberals exude towards conservatives is probably misplaced.


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