As many MDJ readers may know, academics, and especially sociologists, are notoriously liberal. For sociologists, the percentage leaning left is upward of 95 percent, whereas for college faculty in general, it hovers between 80 and 90 percent (depending on how the measurements are taken).
What was different this time around was that enthusiasm for our current president was notably lacking. Most of the participants still intended to vote for Obama, yet no one — not a single soul — attempted to persuade my wife or me that he was superior to Romney.
One of our colleagues epitomized the prevailing attitude. He told a group of us that he had been scandalizing his associates by telling them that he was not going to vote for Obama. He just couldn’t. So whom was he going to support? Why, it was the Green Party candidate.
In fact, nobody in our circle was faintly outraged by this. Even those who were strong Obama supporters sympathized with his decision. After all, they too could not personally imagine voting for a Republican under any circumstances.
As it happened, one of the conference presenters provided survey data on the voting preferences of north Georgians. Her respondents were primarily young — typically college students — but the results confirmed what other researchers have found.
Most people vote as their parents do. This tendency is so robust they frequently support candidates who do not share their values — as long as they come from the correct party. This is true for liberals and conservatives, so it is safe to say that in this respect both factions are conservative.
What also came out of the research is that a majority of voters do not follow the campaigns. Most do not know what the candidates represent because they don’t pay attention. They certainly do not engage in fact-checking to determine if what is promised bears any resemblance to what is liable to be delivered.
It turns out that large numbers of people, including otherwise sophisticated professionals, depend on what they think they already know. This was apparent in an exchange I had with a senior colleague. When I suggested that our society needed to move toward greater decentralization, he strongly demurred.
According to my challenger, we need further centralization because the federal government is the most “efficient” provider of social services. Only it, said he, can do the job. When pressed for evidence, he swiftly cited Social Security.
This reminded me of a conversation I had with another liberal professor several years ago. When asked to identify the chief benefits liberalism provided, he too mentioned Social Security. The other benefit he named was free public education.
The irony is that these are very old ideas that are both now in deep trouble. Thus, Social Security is running out of money as the population ages and those who are working are unable to contribute enough to keep it solvent. Meanwhile, public education has remained stagnant despite our having more than tripled the resources poured into underwriting it.
These programs have demonstrated their worth, yet the time has come for serious reforms. Nevertheless, most liberals refuse to entertain the idea that modifications are necessary. As symbols of their success, they insist that these remain unchanged.
But what is this other than “conservatism?” Liberals like to describe themselves as “progressives.” Yet this evidently does not mean they are prepared to embrace genuinely novel agendas. Like almost everyone else, they prefer to stand by the familiar and comfortable. The same applies when they vote. When the time arrives to cast their ballots, most follow the pathways they always have — no matter what they say. This election will be no different..
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.