Who’s the Fairest of Them All?

Ward Elliott
CMC Professor Emeritus Ward Elliott. Image Courtesy Ward Elliott.

With midterm elections just around the corner and a heated battle between Democrats and Republicans over control of the Senate, it becomes imperative to ask the daunting question, “What will you do on November 4?” Instead of having to go around and take a poll, Professor Ward Elliott’s study entitled, “Political Attitudes at the Claremont Colleges,” takes a deeper look into the political trends on the 5Cs throughout the last 40 years. His findings not only give us some insight into party preference, but also dispel some deeply ingrained rumors about CMC culture.

From students to faculty, many would make the argument that CMC is a conservative utopia that looks down on the rest of the 5Cs. However, let’s put aside all the Yik Yak comments and examine the legitimacy behind these claims.


Professor Elliott’s study spends a lot of time on students of the 5Cs in order to get a clear picture on their beliefs and establish a consistent trend.

Rep-Dem preference at CMC
CMC Student Political Preference, 1972-2012

As Figure 1 (above) from the study demonstrates, since the mid 1990s, CMC has seen a huge turnover in political preference with a 45 percent liberal to 17 percent conservative affiliation in the year 2012. Professor Elliott makes the observation that, “Apart from the 1980s, liberal students have outnumbered conservative by more than two to one.” These findings indicate this growing political direction CMC is taking as more and more students identify as liberals. Professor Elliott takes a step further by focusing in on the increase in liberal views on the CMC campus in relation to the other campuses, pointing out that, “% Change (from conservative to liberal) during 1988-2012 was +35%.” If we were to compare that to the percent change from the other 4 campuses, +16% (HMC), +13% (PO), +16%(SCR), and +19%(PI), that’s more than double the amount of any other campus during the same period!


The faculty are no exception to the trend that Elliott spotted among 5C students.

5C Faculty Party Breakdown
5C Faculty Republican population, broken down by school

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 4.24.56 PMOnly 16 registered Republicans were found from the entire 532 5C core (permanent) faculty, with only one female among them. In other words, only 6.0% of all 5C faculty members are registered as Republicans. Professor Elliott does point out that “only half of the 5C core faculty were found, so the most likely estimates are twice the numbers found: 14.8% for HMC, 13.0% for CMC, Zero for Pomona, Pitzer, and Scripps, and 6.0% for all the 5C’s.” Although CMC may have a higher percentage of Republican faculty members than the other 5Cs, the number is still significantly lower with a “2.2:1 ratio” of Democrat to Republican. Moreover as Professor Elliott explains, “Claremont’s percentages are not out of line with those of other elite institutions, which are generally thought to be more lopsidedly/purely liberal than less elite campuses.” This is an important fact as outsiders look to CMC and some of the 5Cs as the Ivy League of the West Coast and in many cases, make comparisons between different aspects of each institution. It seems like these thoughts about CMC are not an accurate depiction of the political culture on campus.


This study raises the question about which campus truly is more tolerant and open-minded when it comes to political views. Contrary to popular belief of campuses like Pitzer and Pomona being tolerant and CMC being the least, based on this study, it seems as though the opposite is true.

Courtesy Ward Elliott
Courtesy Ward Elliott

Figure 2 (above) shows the Student Presidential Preference, 2-Party, from 1972-2012 of CMC, Pomona, and Pitzer. Professor Elliot explains that, “ Since 1972, 65%-98% of Pomona and Pitzer students have favored the Democratic ticket in Presidential elections, 24-52 points more than the general public, and 16-52 points higher than CMC students.” Even though we are only taking a look at one specific factor, presidential elections, these numbers do highlight an important point about the political diversity we see on the campuses. With CMC gaining more liberal students while maintaining a presence of conservative-minded students, an argument can be made about an, if not rich, at least identifiable contrast in political preferences on campus. On the other hand, with such a strong left-leaning population, upward to 98% for students, on campuses like Pomona and Pitzer, and a faculty with no registered Republicans, the notion of political diversity is completely out of the question.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 4.30.24 PMI was able to attend CMC Professor Jack Pitney’s Athenaeum talk entitled “What’s at Stake in these 2014 Mid-Term Elections,” where he talked about the Democrats’ and Republicans’ chances of victory in Congress. By the end of the speech, Professor Pitney concluded that a victory for the Republicans in both the House and the Senate was likely. However he was careful to point out that these elections still “could go either way.” Unfortunately, the likelihood of students in Pomona and Pitzer voting “either way” is as likely as George Will setting foot on Scripps’ campus. Although Professor Elliott’s study demonstrated how CMC’s political demographics are not nearly as one-sided as its neighbors, that’s really not saying much.

10 thoughts on “Who’s the Fairest of Them All?”

  1. Prefacing this by saying I have a nerdy obsession with data, and, as a liberal, a vested interest in seeing this discussion fleshed out in a balanced manner (that’s what you’re arguing is lacking, yes?).
    That said, some thoughts:

    1. This data analysis is pretty basic. Between CMC’s research institutes and our very quantitative econ department, we have a bounty of students here who know how to do legitimate statistical analysis and draw a distinction between first impressions of data and relevant, statistically significant conclusions. Would like to see the CI put a bit more work into this, especially given the type of rhetoric that you’re pairing it with.

    2. On a related note, there doesn’t seem to be much effort here, in lambasting the Claremont Colleges for their liberal tendencies, to control for the fact that colleges and college voters are, as a general group — and particularly at liberal arts colleges — leaning and voting more to the left. Comparing 5C partisanship to overall presidential vote shares offers very little insight, and yet, as one of just a few graphs in this piece, appears to be toted as a compelling if not damning indictment of liberal censorship (based on the CI’s Facebook posts, that seems to be the publication’s general attitude towards this data). There is zero evidence based on the info provided in this post to show that the Claremont Colleges are especially liberal for what they are. Every college, especially small LACs, will have similar trends. If you want to make a commentary on politics at the 5Cs, then compare 5C voting trends to presidential vote share data for the 18-29 age group, and, if data is available, to partisanship at other American colleges in order to control for the fact that colleges and young adults are more liberal in general.

    3. With regards to political affiliation of the 5C faculty, there’s been a some research done showing that conservatism tends to decrease, in aggregate, as level of education increases. That’s a trend throughout the academy — one that would also make an interesting subject of inquiry if the CI decided to do more comprehensive analysis — so I’m not very compelled by a chart that singles out Claremont faculty for this without providing the industry context.

    4. Why, you may be asking, does it matter how CMC/5Cs compare to other LACs? Isn’t it bad enough just to be silenced for being conservative here?! Well, here’s why I’d argue it matters. If the data were available, I’d be willing to bet that if you compared the same data to, say, the top 100 liberal arts colleges in the country, and controlled for general trends toward liberalism to show the actual relative levels of conservatism among this sample, CMC would land in the top 5 for most conservative when compared to those other schools. That being the case, again, I can’t say that I understand the point of singling CMC out for being a liberal bubble (and as someone who’s from an *actual* liberal bubble, let me tell you: the idea that CMC is that makes me laugh aloud). That would seem to be an issue you should take up with American colleges in general, or with Americans aged 18-29 in general, since it’s those groups’ liberal tendencies that drive CMC’s relatively small (compared to similar institutions) liberal bump.

    1. The data analysis may be basic but in comparison to your baseless statements & assumptions presents a legitimate case.

  2. Nine out of 10 Republicans are white, and only a small sliver (~15%) of low-income individuals are Republicans.* With this in mind, is political/ideological diversity really the most important thing at stake here, considering the glaring lack of access to higher education among racial minorities and low-income individuals? Not that this should come at the expense of open dialogue, of course, but I can’t help but disagree with the premise of this article.

    *sources: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/04/22/the-republican-demographic-problem-is-just-going-to-keep-getting-worse/ and http://www.people-press.org/2009/05/21/section-1-party-affiliation-and-composition/

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