In this highly polarised political climate, it’s natural to wonder whether one side of the aisle may be more intelligent than the other. While there is no definitive answer, we can examine the evidence to gain some insights.
One possible indicator of intelligence is educational attainment, which measures the highest level of education that an individual has completed. According to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center, Democrats lead by 22 points (57%–35%) in leaned party identification among adults with post-graduate degrees. The Democrats’ edge is narrower among those with college degrees or some post-graduate experience (49%–42%), and those with less education (47%–39%). Across all educational categories, women are more likely than men to affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic. The Democrats’ advantage is 35 points (64%-29%) among women with post-graduate degrees, but only eight points (50%–42%) among post-grad men.
This data suggests that Democrats, on average, have higher levels of education than Republicans.
However, it’s important to note that educational attainment does not necessarily equate to intelligence. There are many factors, such as socioeconomic background and access to quality education, that can influence a person’s level of education. Additionally, intelligence is multifaceted and cannot be solely determined by educational attainment.
Another potential measure of intelligence is cognitive ability, which refers to the mental processes involved in acquiring knowledge, understanding, and problem-solving. A 2011 study observed greater liberalism was associated with increased grey matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala.
Furthermore, this study has faced criticism for its methodology and the interpretation of its results. Several researchers have argued that cognitive ability tests are not perfect measures of intelligence, and that the differences found in the study could be due to other factors, such as cultural biases in the test or sampling errors.
Political beliefs and intelligence
It’s also essential to consider that political beliefs are complex and influenced by numerous factors, including upbringing, personal experiences, and values. While intelligence may play a role in shaping political views, it is not the sole determinant of a person’s political affiliation.
A 2013 study found that liberals and conservatives display distinct cognitive styles, with biology potentially influencing their political attitudes and beliefs. A study on young adults found differing brain structures between the two groups: liberals had increased grey matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, while conservatives had increased volume in the amygdala. An experiment involving 82 subjects performing a risk-taking task during functional imaging revealed that, although risk-taking behaviour was similar, brain activity varied between Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives). Democrats had greater activity in the left insula, while Republicans had greater activity in the right amygdala. These findings imply that the two groups engage in different cognitive processes when considering risk and support the idea that conservatives are more sensitive to threatening stimuli.
The question of whether Republicans or Democrats are smarter is not one that can be definitively answered based on current evidence. While there are studies that point to differences in educational attainment and cognitive abilities, these findings are far from conclusive, and the concept of intelligence itself is multifaceted and complex.
Ultimately, the debate about intelligence across the political spectrum is likely to continue, but it is essential to remember that intelligence is just one of many factors that shape political beliefs and affiliations. Instead of focusing on which political group is “smarter”, a more constructive approach may be to engage in open, respectful dialogue that acknowledges the diverse perspectives and experiences that inform our political views.
Tim Williamson, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.