Professors: Liberals like them, conservatives don't

May 09, 2014, 3:48 PM GMT+0

University professors are widely seen as liberal and elitist but liberals and moderates tend to like them

Thinking of a full-time academic might put most of us in mind of a thoughtful old man wearing old fashioned clothes surrounded by leather bound books, but a more current image might be a young adjunct professor struggling to keep on top of student debt. Adjunct professors in some parts of the country have become so dissatisfied with their conditions that they are beginning to unionize in order to seek better pay. Just over 40 years ago around 80% of college faculty had tenure, compared to a third now.

YouGov's latest research reveals that attitudes towards professors, and academia more broadly, vary significantly according to political opinion. Liberals (75%) overwhelmingly have positive impressions of university professors, along with most moderates (58%), but conservatives tend to have unfavorable opinions of professors. 51% of conservatives think poorly of professors, compared to 23% who have favorable opinions of them.

It is highly likely that these differences in opinion are due largely to the fact that professors are widely seen as liberals. Overall, 45% of Americans say that professors are liberals. Even liberals tend to say that professors are liberal (42%) rather than moderate (33%), while a large majority of conservatives (70%) think that professors are liberals.

This is clearly seen when Americans were asked to describe university professors in one word. Among the 27% of the public with negative opinions of professors, by far the most popular word used was 'liberal'. 'Socialist', 'Communist', 'arrogant' and 'pompous' were also popular choices for people who dislike professors. Among people with favorable views the most popular choices were words like 'educated' and 'smart'.

When it comes to the influence of professors and academics on public policy, this political divide persists. Democrats tend to think that professors and academics have the right amount of influence over public policy (42%), but most Republicans (54%) think that academia exercises too much sway over the decisions taken by the government. Overall, the public is largely split, with 27% of the public saying that academics have too much influence, 28% saying that they are appropriately influential while 17% think that academics should have a greater voice.

Asked whether professors are elitist, 38% of Americans say that they are, while 29% say that they are not. Moderates narrowly tend to say that they are (37%) rather than are not (34%) elitist.

Full poll results can be found here.

Image: Getty