This is the second of three blog posts in which I dive deeper into some interesting results from surveys I’ve ran at my school. For a little more context and to see the first part, click here.
A trope I have often heard about the political leanings of Dartmouth students is that an overall Democratic and liberal hue can belie more conservative ideology on economic issues. After all, the college draws students from disproportionately higher income and socioeconomic backgrounds. That could plausibly translate to more conservative economic worldviews into which these students are socialized and currently possess. One of my professors once encapsulated this notion effectively in describing the type of Democrat who attended Dartmouth as a “corporate Democrat.” In order to test this general theory, I included the following two questions on my survey back in April:
1) Which comes closer to your view? The government… (Has gone too far in regulating financial institutions – Has done the right amount in regulating financial institutions – Has not gone far enough in regulating financial institutions – Not sure)
- Going from the first to second to third responses more or less gets at a economic conservative-liberal continuum
2) Do you support or oppose raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 per year? (Strongly support – Somewhat support – Neither support nor oppose – Somewhat oppose – Strongly oppose)
- The conservative-liberal spectrum here goes from strongest opposition to strongest support
Nothing of course can perfectly approximate an abstract concept such as the economic dimension of political ideology, but answers to these questions should help proxy it. Overall results indicate a strongly economically liberal student body. 47 percent of students believe the government has not gone far enough in regulating financial institutions, while less than half of that number at 21 percent said it has gone too far in financial regulation. On the question about raising taxes on the rich, a resounding 69 percent of Dartmouth students supported this idea while 21 percent opposed it.
On the whole, it appears that Dartmouth students are not very economically conservative, at least going by these two questions. Rather, issue positions on this dimension are well in line with an overall predominant liberalism that pervades many issue areas (e.g. such as racial attitudes as I described earlier). However, there were two additional aspects of these results I wanted to explore:
- Which of the demographic/political subgroup differences I found held up in a multivariate model
- How to better get at the question of whether there exists a “corporate Democrat”
For both of the economic issue questions, several subgroup level differences were significant. Democrats, students from families making less than $200,000, and students unaffiliated with the Greek system were each significantly more likely than Independents and Republicans, >$200,000 students, and affiliated students, respectively, to say the government has not gone far enough in financial regulation efforts. Similarly, greater support for raising taxes on the rich came from Democrats relative to their counterparts, students from poorer family income brackets, and non-students relative to white ones. To test these statistically significant bivariate relationships, I entered them into a multivariate model, the output of which is shown below.
The first column models financial regulation opinion, where the liberal position takes on a value of 1, the more neutral one a 2, and the conservative position a 3 (while not ideal for a linear model, a three-point continuous scale is created out of simplicity for the regression). This dependent variable is regressed on a categorical party identification variable (with Democrats as the base), the income variable (with students from >$200,000 families as the base), and a variable for Greek affiliation status. Because no freshmen students are allowed to join Greek houses at Dartmouth, this creates three distinct groups for the Greek affiliation variable: non-freshmen who are affiliated, non-freshmen who are not affiliated, and freshmen. The base in the above model is affiliated non-freshmen (who, without any controls, were less likely to support financial regulation than unaffiliated non-freshmen were).
In model 1 for financial regulation opinion, two of the three relationships remain significant. Relative to Democrats, Independents and Republicans are significantly more likely to take a more conservative position on financial regulation (i.e. in greater opposition to governmental regulation). Even when controlling for an influential factor in partisanship, the income indicator proves significant: students from lower family incomes take a significantly more liberal position on financial regulation than students from higher family incomes do. The significantly more conservative position among affiliated (non-freshmen) students, however, disappears when controlling for these other two factors.
Model 2 uses tax support opposition as the dependent variable, which comes from the five-point Likert scale on this issue that runs from most liberal (strongly support, a value of 1) to most conservative (strongly oppose, a value of 5). That’s regressed on the same partisanship and income variables from model 1, as well as an indicator variable for white race (with non-whites as the base). As in modeling the other economic issue position, party identification and family income levels prove significant predictors: Republicans and Independents as well as students from higher family income brackets take the more conservative position on tax increases. Student race, which revealed significant differences at the bivariate level, is no longer significant after taking into account party and income.
The question of whether there’s a “corporate Democrat” at Dartmouth seems to be partly answered by the previous models. Relative to other partisans, Democratic students take significantly more liberal positions on two fundamental economic issues, contradicting the more conservative economic ideology that the general “corporate Democrat” trope implies. Zeroing in on Democrats adds some more detail. Again, little economic conservatism at an overall level can be found. 87 percent of Dartmouth Democrats support raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 per year, while just six percent oppose this policy. In a similar vein that reinforces their dominant liberal economic character, 65 percent of Democrats on campus say the government has not gone far enough in financial regulation–the more liberal position–compared to four percent who feel the government has gone too far in its financial regulation.
Yet another interesting wrinkle develops when breaking down responses by the two income ranges–students from families above and below yearly incomes of $200,000–within Democrats only. The sample size starts to become much smaller, but all the following differences are still statistically significant. Among Democrats, 74 percent of students from the lower income range say the government has not gone far enough in regulating financial institutions, while fewer students from the higher income range at 54 percent do so. Positions on the tax increase on the rich question confirm the same dynamic. Looking only at Democrats, more lower income students (93 percent) support raising taxes on the rich than higher income students do (79 percent).
A socioeconomic rift thus emerges within Democrat-identifiers, wherein students who come from lower families in income brackets take more liberal economic positions than students from higher income backgrounds. Taking all of these findings on economic attitudes together, two things are clear. For one, Democrats as a whole take very liberal economic policy positions at Dartmouth, undermining the “corporate Democrat” story. However, given evidence from multivariate regression showing the significance of the income variable under controls and looking within-Democrat breakdowns here, family income background remains an important variable for shaping economic ideology at a high-SES campus environment such as Dartmouth College–and beyond what simply partisanship can affect.