Why are people who live in cities more liberal?

I examined three states (Georgia, Florida, and Kansas) chosen at random and examined their education, political leaning, and income levels. Below are the results of each state. Scroll to the bottom for the conclusion.


Georgia by individuals with a college degree

Georgia Income Map


Florida by individuals with a college education.

Florida by income


Kansas by individuals with a college education

Kansas by Income

According to the charts the highest concentration of income and individuals with college educations live in U.S. cities. So despite the popular misconception that rich people are all a bunch of Republicans, it appears that education and income actually make people more liberal (or visa versa). So are liberals just more intelligent or are we missing something all together?

Map of people with college degrees
Map of Income by Location
Map of Political leaning by Location

35 thoughts on “Why are people who live in cities more liberal?

  1. galudwig

    I have no answers but the conclusion I would be most willing to draw from this is not that people who live in cities or richer people are more liberal, but rather that people who are successful in college tend to live in cities and have higher incomes.

    Considering the liberal leanings of the academic world, the fact that they are (mostly) dependent on the government and the tendency of professors to be in favor of statism, I’d guess that being of a liberal persuasion is not a bad thing in college, increasing their success rate.

    But I don’t know, it’s a mystery to me how otherwise intelligent people are willing to put all their faith in the hands of the state..

    1. Atticus Finch

      I think the one thing this chart fails to show is whether these individuals are socially liberal/conservative or fiscally liberal/conservative. For myself, I know I am pretty socially liberal; however, fiscally I am mostly conservative.

      It seems pretty clear though that there is a correlation between political leaning, education, income, and geography. Unless I’m missing a factor all together the results are pretty clear.

      I would like to point out that I have been unable to find this data on people involved in the liberty campaign or those who identify themselves as libertarian… I would be interested to see what those charts look like.

  2. Sarah W.

    Maybe there’s something to be said for larger populations wanting/needing more government controls because of the likelihood for more infringement of individual rights, as well as the increased need for public services (more roads, more sewers, more school kids, etc.). Conversely, in rural areas people are more apt to be able to live however they want without bothering neighbors. Plus, rural people are also better (opinion!) at fending for themselves.

    It might also be interesting to overlay religious data. Could be an issue of replacing God with government.

    1. Atticus Finch Post author

      That is an excellent idea; however, I do not think what you are describing accounts for the socially liberal ideas most progressives share.

      Also, as I live in Georgia – if you have been to any of the “cities” except Atlanta most people would consider them large suburbs, but with jobs and educated people. So there is little need for more public services compared to any other county.

      I think the most likely culprit is education changing their political ideology by introducing new information.

      There are two additional factors I would like to overlay with this data later. 1. Age 2. Religion I think that data will be very telling as well.

      1. Sarah W.

        What about large population driving compromise? The “go along to get along” or “we have to learn to live together” attitudes? Not debating that I’m right; just talking out loud πŸ˜‰

        Also, on the education/religion front, I have heard (but don’t know as fact) that education and religion share an inverse relationship. Might consider that with whatever you come up with from your religion/age overlay.

        1. jon

          Along with Sarah’s idea that cities may require a ‘we have to learn to live together’ attitude, it may also be that when you’re forced to interact more often with people of backgrounds different than your own, you may shed (or at least reduce) some of your stereotypes and to be able to see the commonalities that most of us share – regardless of background. Since this mixing is more likely to occur in cities, it might lead to more tolerance.

          I’ve sometimes wondered if people would react better to expanded medicare if we were a country of only blonde-haired, blue eyed people. I.e., if we identified more with those who we might be helping out with our taxes.

  3. reconciledme

    We hear a lot about how people with a college education tend to vote Democrat. Democrats like to think they vote that way because their education makes them better able to grasp the issues.

    My humble opinion is that education in general is similar to philosophy. With philosophy you dig and dig to get at the heart of an idea. That’s all well and good unless you never crawl out of the hole you’ve dug and filter your new found knowledge in the light of day. So many on the left fall into this category. They are educated but they are not thinkers and if they are they have failed to climb back into the light to see how their knowledge relates to the real world.

    Socialism,Marxism and even communism are great academic ideas. Yet the simple fact is they fail in the real world.

    1. Atticus Finch Post author

      Interesting, but I think the argument that educated people are actually the dumb ones is a pretty weak argument… Especially considering astronomers, engineers, and the people creating space flight, automobiles, and computers are more liberal leaning and obviously intelligent.

      I wonder how many people vote based on social issues vs. fiscal issues…

      1. Rattlesnake

        I don’t think what reconciledme was saying was that educated people are dumb, just that there is a tribe mentality (as there is with any “community”). Regardless of how smart someone is, most people are prone to being narrow-minded and show bias towards their pre-established ideologies which affects their ability to consider evidence that contradicts them.

        As for scientists and engineers being more liberal, do you have any evidence for that? I’ve seen lots of evidence saying intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities are overwhelmingly liberal, but not people in STEM fields.

        1. Atticus Finch Post author

          No evidence off hand, just an assumption. I’ll check into it. I’m guessing that socially most highly educated people are liberal, but fiscally I’d have to do the research. Coming soon. πŸ™‚

        2. jon

          I’m a neuroscientist, and know a lot of other neuroscientists. I don’t think that all of them are liberal, but I’d say that a disproportionate number of them are. (When among scientists, you can bash Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly without being afraid of offending anyone).

          1. Rattlesnake

            When you say liberal, do you mean social liberal and possible fiscal conservative, or full liberal/progressive? Also, are these government employees?

            It is interesting that a group of people (i.e. neuroscientists) that are presumably in a line of work that doesn’t have anything to do with politics would favour one ideology over another. I don’t buy that liberals are, in general, smarter than conservatives (and vice versa). I suppose the “intellectual class” of any society is the first one to develop a contrary philosophy to the predominant one, which might be how leftism became prominent in academia in the US in the first place if American society was generally conservative, but I wouldn’t think that neuroscience would have anything to do with that (but I’m not a neuroscientist, so I don’t know).

            1. jon

              (This string is going to soon be 1 character per line). I don’t think liberals are generally smarter than conservatives – i know too many brilliant conservatives and dumb liberals πŸ™‚
              In terms of neuroscientists – i think, as A.F. mentioned – I’m thinking of social issues.
              Having said that, I’ll share one fact that I’ve mentioned to A.F. before – I sit on a government panel (one of many panes) that chooses which neuroscience grants will be funded by the National Institute of Health. Contrary to our stereotype of poorly-run government programs, the federal science grant-awarding processes is really really well run. High on efficiency, integrity and hard-work on the part of all involved. You have a room of about 30 really smart scientists that devote several weeks every 4 months (usually for 4 year terms on the panel) for only a modest honorarium, and they work really hard to select the proposals most likely to have a big impact on health and basic science understanding.
              Just to say that I’ve had experience with crappy government programs and some really impressive ones.

  4. amelie

    Researchers who have studied this demonstrate that it is a result of living closer to the coasts. Early immigration brought a diverse range of people and more progressive, tolerant views as a result.

    1. Atticus Finch Post author

      That is an excellent point; however, it doesn’t explain the same result in cities like Kansas. Although, I think the same effect is taking place. The result of being in a heavily populated area makes an area more diverse and more socially progressive.

  5. amelie

    Sorry, the city connection: (I meant to add it). Liberals living n cities may be more a result of drawing in liberal people rather than turning them into liberals.

    1. Atticus Finch Post author

      I agree. It is just an interesting coorilation between education, income, and being liberal. Of course being in the city doesn’t turn you into a liberal. Rather the jobs pull in educated people.

        1. Rattlesnake

          I don’t think so. I think that classical liberals and libertarians are probably more intelligent than social conservatives overall, but I don’t have any evidence to support that. I also don’t find liberals/progressives to be very intelligent when I’ve interacted with them, but that’s just anecdotal evidence.

  6. Rattlesnake

    I LOVE demographics. I could talk about it all day. I find this stuff very interesting, but I don’t know if other people would find what I am about to say boring. And sorry if it’s hard to follow…

    I’m not really sure how you come to the conclusion that “it appears that education and income actually make people more liberal.” Some of Atlanta’s rich and highly-educated suburbs are also very Republican, and the same can be said for Jacksonville and Kansas City. And if you look at Wyandotte County, Kansas (which contains Kansas City, Kansas), it is Democratic, poor, and uneducated. Neighboring Johnson County, Kansas is Republican, wealthy, and educated. I really don’t think there is much of a correlation between education level/affluence and voting patterns. I would say it depends more on the region: for example, Marin County, California is one of the wealthiest counties in the US, and it is also one of the most liberal. Of course, it contains suburbs of San Francisco. On the other hand, Collin County, Texas, north of Dallas, is also very wealthy and is also a Republican stronghold.

    Having said that, on a state level, I would say that there is a correlation between politics and education level/income (the most wealthy states are in the Northeast, while the poorest are in the South; having said that, red states seem to have lower debt per person in general (with Idaho having the least, and I think Massachusetts having the most).

    As for why cities are more liberal, there are several reasons for that. If you look at this study, you’ll see that the most Democratic cities fall into 2 categories: cities like Detroit; Oakland, California; Gary, Indiana; Washington, DC; Inglewood, California; Newark, New Jersey; Cleveland, Ohio; Hartford, Connecticut; Baltimore, Maryland; Birmingham, Alabama; and St. Louis, Missouri (all poor cities with large black and/or hispanic populations)… and cities like San Francisco; Berkeley, California; Cambridge, Massachusetts; New Haven, Connecticut; Seattle; and New York (cities that are wealthier, and have reputations for being liberal). Also, you might notice that most major cities are towards the liberal end, while only a few major cities (Houston, Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, and Phoenix) are more conservative. Most cities on the conservative end are smaller, and many are suburbs. Anyway, the point is that major cities usually have large populations of racial minorities (who tend to vote Democratic), or they are places that have attracted liberals (often because of universities). If you look at the racial makeup of Houston, Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, and Phoenix, they all had white majorities when that survey was taken, and none are really known for attracting liberals the way places like San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles are. As for the major cities in Georgia, Florida, and Kansas, Atlanta falls into the first category, Miami falls into both categories, and Kansas City falls into the first category. Wichita falls into neither and is very conservative. I’m not really sure about Tampa or Orlando.

    Anyway, in general, inner city areas are quite liberal, while suburbs and rural areas are more conservative. But it also depends on what the culture of the region is, but there are many different variables. I think culture is the most important factor in determining what the political views of a given area are, and major cities have undeniably different cultures, in general, than rural areas and suburbs do (cities are usually younger and more diverse, for example).

    1. Rattlesnake

      Oh yeah, and I should add that places with universities are undeniably liberal. As for why that is, I think it is not because they are more educated and smarter, but because they are younger (while many of the professors have been around university culture for most of their lives, so it is unlikely that they would change in their beliefs very much). Even in the non-university attending population of those places, the university dominates the culture.

      1. jon

        That’s an interesting idea, Rattlesnake. I think there may be something to that. Although I experienced a counter-example. I used to teach at Boston College. There most of the students were conservative (it’s a Catholic institution, and most students came from Catholic families). On the other hand, most of the faculty were liberal. (I know that because I saw a report of faculty contributions to the Kerry and Bush political campaigns and something like 99% of faculty political contributions went to the Kerry campaign). Maybe this isn’t really a counter-example. Many of the faculty may have spent a lot of years at other universities. Anyhow, interesting idea.

        1. jon

          I know that Catholics aren’t necessarily politically conservative, but I think the families of the Boston College students may have been.

    2. Atticus Finch Post author

      I think in general – it is easy to tell there is a correlation between education, income, and political leaning. You are right – there are examples that prove this wrong such as surrounding suburbs of ATL, but I don’t think there is any disputing the patern.

      Also, the only major minority that tends to vote democratic/liberal are blacks. Latin Americans tend to vote Republican. So I doubt that minorities play a critical role in liberalism.

      1. Rattlesnake

        In the 2008 presidential election, according to exit polls, 55% of White people voted for McCain, 95% of African-Americans voted for Obama, 67% of Latinos voted for Obama, 62% of Asians voted for Obama, and 66% of everyone else voted for Obama.

        52% of people with incomes over $200,000/yr voted for Obama, but 50% of people with incomes from $150,000-$200,000/yr and 51% of people with incomes from $100,000-$250,000/yr voted for McCain. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern there, and there isn’t until you get to the lowest incomes.

        As for education, Obama did the best among the least educated and most educated, while McCain did the best in the middle.

        Something in those exit polls I find interesting is that educated white people are more Democratic than non-educated white people, while educated non-white people are more Republican than non-educated non-white people.

        1. Atticus Finch Post author

          That is great information. I did most of my research on voting for Governor because I thought that was a better indicator or people’s political leaning. Especially since a lot of people’s presidential choice was jaded by Sara Palin being the VP candidate and the election coming after 10 years of war and G.W. Bush.

  7. amelie

    Well, here’s the problem, Atticus. Suppose you have a climate change professor at a prominent university. She makes a good living and drives a hybrid.

    Most people, especially right wingers, are going to declare her a liberal. That’s even without knowing who she’s going to vote for.
    So yes, educated people are liberals. That’s almost by defenition.

    There’s a real problem with the liberal-conservative label. It doesn’t distinguish between politics and attitudes. I, for example, am socially, extremely conservative. I agree with many classical conservative ideals. But Republicans today have swayed so far from those ideals it’s not the same anymore.

    No intelligent person denies the evidence for climate change. No intelligent person thinks Creationism should be taught in schools or that women should be denied birth control.

    And yet, that’s the way these Republicans are headed. There’s no denying they’re out to dumb down the American public. But that doesn’t mean that “liberals” don’t uphold good conservative ideals such as hunting, fishing, strong families and discipline for children.

    1. Atticus Finch Post author

      That is true, but these maps show who people voted for. Republican vs. Democrat. So it appears when politics are concerned – people in cities tend to vote more liberally then elsewhere.

  8. amelie

    Sorry about the formatting problem, Atticus. LOL, feel free to edit the comment so it’s not so choppy.

    I meant to add, I wonder about relativity; in other words, we’re comparing city-rural in overwhelmingly conservative areas; would those students or even professors be visiting? Where are the home towns or destinations of the students?

    I tend to see a whitewash of liberal / conservative among students of natural science. They tend to get out in the woods, be independent and even hunt more than their church-going Republican equivillents in the rural areas, who are home raising families.

    Some vote independent. At that point, do we label them conservative or liberal? I think the label of left versus right is better but still very confusing.

  9. Pingback: Income, Education, Age, and Geography Determine Political Leaning. Religion not as important as expected. « BlogTruth

  10. Bob Clement

    I’ll throw my 2 cents in. It has mainly do do with dependency versus independence. While many would say rural people are ignorant that is hardly the case. Ignorant and educated people are everywhere. All one needs to do is make a trip to a liberal inner city to blow the ignorant argument out of the water.

    Rural people tend to be conservative because they have to depend on themselves far more than city dwellers and they tend to like it that way. When one lives in the city if one is failing they don’t have many options other than to look for a government based program for help. Being poor in a city will make one become liberal pretty darned quick. They want someone, anyone, to help them out of their situation.

    1. Atticus

      I think that’s an interesting point – but I think there’s more to it than that. There are a lot of people in rural areas that are on welfare programs such as food stamps and unemployment. I saw a study the while back that showed as a percentage those relying on government in rural areas and cities are about the same.

      Just looking at the data I don’t see a strong correlation.




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