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Posted at 5:35 PM ET, 02/11/2011

Born this way? Conservative bias on campus

By Alexandra Petri

For a long time, you wondered if you were different.

You looked around at your peers. They were all laughing at the same jokes, coming back from the weekends and talking about their DREAMs, their idols, and the boxes where they'd stuck their ballots.

People showed you pictures of Barack Obama. You didn't feel anything. "I know he looks fantastic emerging from the ocean," you muttered, "but it doesn't stir anything inside me, except the vague desire for more financial responsibility." On election night 2008, you felt oddly despondent. "But it's historic!" everyone around you yelled. "I know," you said, sighing. You went out and shouted "Change! Hope! Change!" but your heart wasn't really in it.

You went to convenience stores and bought copies of The New Republic, stashing them inside copies of Playboy and Jugs. You kept a copy of Ronald Reagan's memoir under your bed. Furtively, after your roommate went to sleep, you read it. You felt oddly excited. Small government? Individual liberties?

Some nights, you even dreamed about Sarah Palin.

One day, you came across the description of a conservative in a newspaper. As you read it, you began shaking uncontrollably. "That's me!" you murmured. "That's me all over!" You burst into tears, disturbing the other people in the checkout line. Suddenly the world made sense.

But you knew it had to be a secret. You couldn't tell your parents. They were professors at Berkeley, where the ratio of Democrats to Republicans among faculty was 9 to 1. They kept collections of Bushisms in the bathroom and brought them out at parties, and everyone laughed and talked about how necessary the EPA was and how wonderful the Clinton era had been.

You began reading every book about your condition that you could find. Apparently, people like you had existed throughout not just American history, but world history, too. There was Ronald Reagan. There was Teddy Roosevelt. There was Edmund Burke. There was Abraham Lincoln, who called conservatism "adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried." You liked the way that sounded.

One night you finally get up the courage to tell someone else. "I don't know quite how to say this," you murmur. "Everyone says it's wrong, but I -- I think I'm right. Leaning. Politically."

Your friends draw back from you in horror. "You what?" they scream. They tie you down and perform an exorcism. "You are trying to set this country back!" they shout. "Well, yes," you mutter. "But just a little, and not in a hateful way!" They send Al Gore in to stare disappointedly at you. "Can't we have a rational discussion?" you ask. "I think there are in fact some arguments on this side that have merit."

"Get out!" they shout. "I just did!" you yell. "Then get back in!" they scream.

You retreat to your room and tear down your Reagan poster, sobbing silently. "One day," you murmur, "I'll get out of here! I'll move to a red state, where people will accept me for who I really am!"

I've said it before. On campus, conservative might just be the new gay.

And now there's a study to prove it.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that, at a conference of Social Psychologists, Dr. Jonathan Haidt pointed out a new outgroup: conservatives. "Haidt," the article said, "told the audience that he had been corresponding with a couple of non-liberal graduate students in social psychology whose experiences reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s. He quoted -- anonymously -- from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal."

It's not just social psychologists. Much ink has been spilled on the question of so-called liberal bias on college campuses. Maybe it's not so-called after all. Across the country, the political leanings of the professoriate lack diversity. At elite universities, Democrats outnumber Republicans by six to one in the general faculty; a study of both elite and non-elite institutions found that Democratic psychology professors outnumber Republicans 12 to 1.

This isn't the open indoctrination that some conservatives fear. It's simply a pernicious assumption -- that everyone in the classroom is coming from the same political perspective and will laugh at the same punchlines. This is the creeping danger when any one group becomes more than statistically dominant. "But we all agree!" everyone says. "We must be right! And if anyone disagrees -- well, he's wrong, so it doesn't matter!" Maybe. But it's -- how do you say? -- statistically improbable.

It doesn't matter if you love him. Or capital H-i-m.

But if anyone finds out that "him" is spelled R-e-a-g-a-n -- well, I can't answer for your safety.

By Alexandra Petri  | February 11, 2011; 5:35 PM ET
Categories:  Petri, That's awkward  | Tags:  Lady Gaga, Reagan, censorship, college, law of the jungle  
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Posted by: deepthroat21 | February 11, 2011 8:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to have to call you out and say there is NO study to prove it. First of all, in Psychology, nothing is "proven." Second, the article you're referring to isn't a study-- it's one psychologist's untested hypothesis. Please be more careful in choosing your words, lest readers get the wrong idea.

Posted by: Mowgli3 | February 11, 2011 9:26 PM | Report abuse

More whining from the dominant majority? From people who spent a miniscule portion of their life ever being in a minority? People whose adherents control, and have controlled, every aspect of this nation since its inception? Control it socially and politically and religiously? Many Leftists spend almost all their lives hiding their feelings from others in this so-called free nation.

This is satire, meant to be ironic, isn't it?

Posted by: samsara15 | February 11, 2011 10:16 PM | Report abuse

The reason there are so many liberals on campus is conservatives own fault. Leftism and conservatism both actually have a foot in the same la la land making ridiculous assumptions about human nature - that selfless self sacrifice will take care of society's problems. From the Conservative perspective, it's that money, and unrestrained profit motive is all society needs to function. No need for government "interference" in terms of welfare or "social engineering“. We should rely on private charities and Christian selflessness to provide all that unrestrained greed cannot. Well guess what. Journalism and education generally are not high paying jobs, and you can't seem to highly monetize and incentivize them at an individual level (at least compared to finance). So where do all the profit enthralled little greedy conservatives go? Not into education and journalism, that's for sure. No problem, they'll just wait for private conservative charities with millón dollar scholarships and sense of Christian selflessness so inherent in all Conservatives, to eventually balance things out. Good luck with that.

Posted by: xandersun | February 12, 2011 8:03 AM | Report abuse

Liberals are extremely tolerant of people that look different, have different lifestyles, etc, provided they believe liberal catechism.

Otherwise, they are about as tolerant as Southern Bible-thumpers.

Posted by: sold2u | February 12, 2011 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Actually, there are studies that prove some people are born less altruistic, less able to reason logically, more selfish, more fearful and more risk averse.
They grow up to be the kind of people who believe "what's mine is mine; get your own" even when they have millions; the kind of people who go to rallies to protest government interference in Medicare.
In other words, Republicans.
They are mean, cramped, selfish, frightened little people, who need Fox's nutcases to identify for them the enemy of the day.

Posted by: kstack | February 12, 2011 10:01 AM | Report abuse

This is ridiculous. It has nothing to do with partisanship. Reagan REALLY WAS a bad president and the Clinton era (which produced the first budget surpluses in 30 years) REALLY WAS good. Down the line and over and over ideas considered conservative are just BAD ideas. No EPA? The Hudson River would be so dirty it probably would burn with the pollutants. No FDA? We would have salmonella outbreaks every week. There is a VAST difference between being gay and being conservative. If you are gay, it does not hurt me. If you are conservative, it DOES hurt me and the country. EVERY great idea/movement was LIBERAL - Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Womens Rights, Social Security - ALL LIBERAL movements. However, the worst Supreme Court decision, the Dred Scot Case saying it was permissable to own slaves, was a CONSERVATIVE decision. So was Pleuressy vs. Fergueson, the separate but equal opinion. Yes, there are some bad liberal ideas, the nanny state push is one of the biggest, but liberal thinking FAR FAR superceeds conservative thinking on every level.

Do I think conservatives have a right to their opinions? Of course I do, but I do cringe when they enter the voting booth and vote AGAINST my rights. This idea of conservatives supporting individual liberties, well, it is conservatives who have sought to police the internet, who want to deny women the right to choose, who kept blacks and gays and women oppressed. And do not forget the anti-liberty Patriot Act is a CONSERVATIVE act.

Lastly, it is not the liberalism in me that makes me think that Reagan and Bush were bad presidents and Michele Bachman and Sara Palin would be bad presidents. RONALD REAGAN AND GEORGE W. BUSH WERE BAD PRESIDENTS AND SARA PALIN AND MICHELE BACHMAN, who have published outright lies (death panels, 200 million dollar presidential trips - both lies) ARE BAD CHOICES FOR THE PRESIDENCY. This is not opinion. It is not partisanship. THESE ARE FACTS. FACTS. FACTS!!!!!

Conservatives have a problem with facts. It was the Bush administration who disdained the "reality-based" community after all.

So let them remain conservatives if they wish but conservatives are like that alcoholic roommate you had in college. Sure it was his right to drink himself senseless, but that did not make it right. AND THE RIGHT IS NOT RIGHT.

Posted by: nyrunner101 | February 12, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

New scientific studies have shown that liberals are liberal because of a brain defect.

Posted by: fcs25 | February 12, 2011 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I was a liberal until I was 40. I read the New York Times, Newsweek, Time and listened to the BBC.

After 9/11 I started reading new material as well: the Wall Street Journal, the Jerusalem Post, and the National Review online and quickly became a conservative... as I found conservative thought vastly more informed and intelligent than the liberal dogma I'd been reading for decades.

Winston Churchill so famously said, "If you are not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 40, you have no brain." I think he was right !

Posted by: pvilso24 | February 12, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Welcome home, Ms. Petri...
Coming "out" into the conservative world will be the best thing you could ever have done for both your brain and your heart.

Posted by: castellina | February 12, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Despite all the right wing whining, there's a reason why here are more liberals than right wingnuts on campus. On the average Liberals are smarter than Conservatives, and there is quite a lot of research that demonstrates such.

To quote this blog post:

Psychologist Ian Deary of the University of Edinburgh realized he could explore the link between IQ and values using a very large existing data base on kids who were born in 1970. These boys and girls, more than 7000 of them, had all taken IQ tests at the age of ten, so he was able to sort out the bright kids from their duller classmates. These kids had then been tracked and interviewed repeatedly for two decades, so there was a rich record of not only their education and work lives but also their basic attitudes and beliefs: on race, gender equality, the environment, the sanctity of marriage, and so forth. In short, Deary wanted to see what kind of people they turned into at age 30, as they stood on the cusp of the 21st century.

Not to put too fine a point on it: The smartest kids turned into the most broad-minded and progressive adults. For example, the most intelligent kids turned out 20 years later to be much more tolerant of other races. They were also much more supportive of working mothers, rejecting the notion that pre-school children will suffer without a stay-at-home mother. In general, the sharpest kids came to embrace much less traditional moral values and were much more apt to challenge authority. They were also much less cynical as adults, more trusting that the political system can do good.

I did a quick meta-analyis of the results of the first 25 studies I found in that addressed the relationship between liberal views and IQ. I found a mean correlation of .34, not the strongest relationship (only about 12% shared variation) but it did show that liberals on the average had statistically higher IQ's than conservatives. [Perhaps this one should be filed under "Not Surprised"]

Posted by: larryclyons | February 12, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

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