In my life, based on personal observation, the brightest people always seemed to incline to the political left, which in the UK meant the Labour Party. I did not conduct any proper sampling, and merely deduced opinions from the nature of their conversation, since outright enquiry about politics was considered unseemly in a university setting. Despite the very weak methodology, this was my general, anecdotal impression.
I believed all this because it was true to my experience. Kahneman and Tversky had yet to sail into my consciousness. I failed to notice that I had not sampled business leaders, lawyers, engineers and City of London entrepreneurs and investors, simply because I did not know many. The availability heuristic was alive and well, and distorted my perceptions.
Later life experiences suggested that, after graduating, bright leftists turned left into education and public service, bright rightists turned right into the professions and business. I turned left with the former, and assumed they represented most of the world. I noticed much later that the Right had thinkers as well as the Left.
More recent work has shown that social scientists are generally of leftist persuasion, whichever way that is labelled in each nation. Can we say whether, as a general rule, the brightest tend towards the Left?
Idan Solon How intelligence mediates liberalism and pro-sociality. Intelligence 47 (2014) 44–53
Solon has looked at this question largely in the US context, in which the Left are Liberals (Democrats) and the Right are Conservatives (Republicans). Solon does include data from the Netherlands 2004, South Africa 1990, Brazil 2012, Germany 2012, so the phenomenon is not restricted to the USA. His analysis is that the relationship between intelligence and leftism is U shaped: both the brightest and the dullest are Leftists, the middling intellects Rightist. If so, it seems I had noticed only that the brightest were indeed Left, but ignored the fact that the least clever were also Left. That is, if the finding generalises widely.
Individuals of most or least intelligence consistently orient further left politically than those of middle intelligence, producing a U-shaped curve. The lower intelligence group orients toward the left because it is populated disproportionately by leftist beneficiaries (e.g., economic and racial minorities). The leftists vote leftist strictly on issues on which they are beneficiaries. Unlike the lower intelligence extreme, the higher intelligence extreme is broadly leftist, self-identifies as liberal, and is strongly pro-social overall.
Solon describes leftists as: characterized by a tendency to demonstrate consideration toward the less represented, whether the less represented comprise minority demographic segments (e.g., homosexuals on gay marriage, pregnant women on abortion, convicted criminals on capital punishment, the poor on fiscal policies and health care, immigrants on immigration, citizens of other countries on foreign policy issues) or less represented alternatives to religious, governmental, or cultural orthodoxy.
In the United States, Democrats draw support partly from the well educated and affluent liberals, who orient consistently toward the left across all issues, and partly from “conservative and disadvantaged Democrats,” who are disproportionately populated by racial and economic minorities, are characterized by high religiosity and low education, and orient toward economic liberalism (i.e., in support of government interventions to assist the poor) but social conservatism (Pew Research Center, 2005). These latter Democrats vote for a leftist party (and are therefore considered leftists) but tend not to identify as liberals, who, by contrast, are broadly leftist.
The U-shaped curve explored below relates intelligence and leftism, with the lower intelligence extreme predominately leftist but not liberal, and the higher intelligence extreme predominately liberal (i.e., consistently leftist across a range of issues). An analogous U-shaped curve appears to characterize public opinion in numerous countries, though the names denoting leftist parties and ideologies are variable.
Openness/Intellect is the only Big Five personality trait that correlates consistently with general intelligence (DeYoung, 2011) and is also the trait that correlates most strongly, by far, with both social and economic liberalism (Gerber, Huber, Doherty, Dowling, & Ha, 2010).
Liberalism in academia: College professors have a very high average IQ (Dutton & Lynn, 2014) and orient toward the left across a range of academic disciplines. Left–right ratios of roughly 4 to 1 have been documented for professors overall, with those in the humanities consistently the most liberal and those in economics and business consistently the least liberal (Dutton & Lynn, 2014; Gross, 2013; Rothman & Lichter, 2009). In comprehensive inquiries into professors' liberalism, Gross (2013) and Gross and Fosse (2012) considered six commonly advanced hypotheses, including the argument that those who exhibit intellectualism lean toward the left, before offering one of their own: jobs in academia have become politically typed, thus discouraging conservatives from applying for them. They acknowledged offering no direct empirical support for their hypothesis.
Here is a scary table, the only one in the paper. Some famous, highly prized US academics have made public donations to political parties, and these donations are tabulated according to where the recipients fall on the Left-Right political dimension.
The Right gets barely a penny, the exclusive Left the overwhelming majority of the donations. Prized minds incline leftwards. (The MacArthur grant might be run by a Soviet of socialists, but surely it cannot be the case that all of these august bodies are covert fellow-travellers of Marxism-Leninism? Are not even Scrabble and Bridge sacrosanct?)
However, the Solon paper is a bit thin on actual intelligence measures. Ability is calculated on the basis of achievement in terms of academic prizes like Nobels (a good measure) years of education (a reasonable but imprecise measure) and social and occupational status (fairly reasonable but more imprecise). For example, the Benbow and Lubinski papers on mathematically precocious youth would be a prospective sample worth studying, though I cannot find anything on political orientation at the moment. David Lubinski might be able to supply something, in which case I will add it in.
So, this thesis proposes that bright people are leftist by conviction and dull people leftist by expediency. Eysenck argued as much in 1954, saying that the working class were torn between: the material advantages of Leftism in the shape of the Labour Party; and the ideological advantages of tough minded Rightism in the shape of the hang-them-and-flog-them Conservatives, to which they naturally inclined. Women, being more anxious and conservative usually swung the vote for the Conservatives.
A key point: if most of social science is produced by Leftists then, although it should not distort the truths revealed by nature, it might do so in precisely in the same way same some enthusiastic Leftists level accusations against their opponents: telling them that their innermost Rightist preferences reveal them to be biased.
In Prof Tony Flew’s (1975) “Thinking about thinking” he describes (4.21) these arguments as “You would believe that, because you are a Christian or Marxist or Conservative….” That may be true as a general observation about a cluster of opinions, but it is not a refutation of a particular argument. A Marxist might believe that particular socialised farming practices would benefit humanity. They might be right or wrong, but the proposition cannot be refuted because of their political inclinations. Stephen Jay Gould was not proved wrong because he was a Marxist, but because his insinuations about faked cranial volumes were shown to be false.
So, all of social science could be Leftist but right. That would depend on all arguments being tested to destruction. As Socrates observed, we must follow the argument where ever it leads.