Are educators and the media to the left of parents?

Conservative Christian parents sometimes express concern about what they suppose is a secular liberal tilt in education and in media/entertainment industries. But is there really a tilt? Are the people in these fields in fact less likely than parents generally to be religious Christians and Republicans?

Using data from the U.S. General Social Survey, the short answer is that childcare workers and K-12 teachers are overall pretty similar to parents in religiosity and party identification—if anything, particularly through middle school, childcare workers and teachers are even more likely than parents to be churchgoing Christians. But college teachers and people in media and entertainment really are substantially to the left of parents both religiously and politically.

The chart below gives the details. It shows basic religion and party numbers for parents with minor children at home, compared with people currently employed as childcare workers and kindergarten teachers, elementary and middle school teachers, high school teachers, college teachers, and media and entertainment creators (i.e., people working as producers, directors, reporters, writers, editors, artists, musicians, managers, etc. in industries relating to news, books, art, music, radio, television, film, etc.).

The top portion of the chart covers religion. It shows the percentage who are Christians who attend church at least a couple of times a month minus the percentage who are non-Christians (mostly including “nones” but also Jews, Buddhists, etc.). So, numbers to the right indicate more churchgoing Christians than non-Christians, and numbers to the left indicate more non-Christians than churchgoing Christians. The bottom portion of the chart shows the percentage who land or lean Republican minus the percentage who land or lean Democratic.

The sample size for the parents is over 6,000, so those are pretty safe numbers for the time period covered. But for the other groups the sizes are pretty small, in the 150 to 250 range. So take the exact numbers there with a grain of salt, though the overall trends are likely in the right directions.

For parents, churchgoing Christians outnumber non-Christians by 22 points. The skew towards churchgoing Christians is even more pronounced for childcare workers and K-12 teachers (though not as dramatically for high school teachers). But for college teachers and media/entertainment folks, non-Christians outnumber churchgoing Christians by around 16 or 17 points.

On party identification, all the groups in the chart have at least a few more Democrats than Republicans. This is true of the population generally. But college teachers have a remarkably strong Democratic tilt—Democrats outnumber Republicans by around 41 points. For media/entertainment creators, Democrats outnumber Republicans by around 26 points.

There are also interesting differences in race/ethnicity and education (not shown on the chart). For these demographics, parents actually look similar to childcare workers and kindergarten teachers—both groups are about two-thirds white and average around 13.5 years of education. But the other groups are each around 80% white and contain substantially higher education levels, averaging around 15 or 16 years for media/entertainment folks, around 17 years for elementary/middle/high school teachers, and around 18 years for college teachers.

So, are educators and media/entertainment creators unusually likely to be less-religious Democrats? For K-12 schools, no. For college and media/entertainment, yes.

Even if containing lots of non-Christians and Democrats, professors and the media might not actually have much influence. My sense is that studies of the determinants of people’s basic religious and political orientations don’t typically find big effects from educators or the media. In fact, they often don’t show big effects from parents themselves once genetic factors are taken into account, particularly when the children become old enough to make their own decisions. It’s very hard to sort these things out—the interactions between genetic and environmental effects, the causal complexities involved with being influenced by peers or media vs. choosing to hang out with some types of folks but not others and choosing to attend to some kinds of media but not others, and so on.

But that complexity also implies that it’s certainly possible that the strong overall leftward religious and political tilt of college teachers and media/entertainment creators does have some non-trivial influence on the children of religious Republicans. In other words, it’s not a crazy thing for their parents to worry about. For academic/media folks, it’s important to keep in mind one’s community’s atypical features when thinking about how to reach outside of one’s own circles, whether attempting to please broader audiences or attempting to change minds.