Electoral disadvantage but cultural hegemony
There is the additional factor that right-leaning audiences have a complete, self-reinforcing media ecosystem to lure them away from the mainstream. Every defenestration at the NY Times or Facebook suppression of a story about Hunter Biden shunts more right-of-center media consumers to Earth 2.0. That phenomenon is working in the same direction as educational polarization.
I am currently in the only Republican congressional district in a blue state and it is very, very Trumpy. Very Trumpy. Like, sub-contractors go out of their way to tell you how Trumpy they are when they show up for a job, you know, just that's clear to my ECCO-wearing ass up front.
IMHO mainstream media outlets are totally unaware of just how alienating they can be to non-urban, non-diehard-liberals. (For the own-the-libs side of the coin, The Fox News Cinematic Universe, that is a feature, not a bug.) On paper, I am the exact demographic that the NY Times et al. is pursuing, yet I don't read it at all because it feels like a liberal echo chamber where city-dwelling millennials with liberal arts degrees vigorously inhale their own farts and then write condescending articles about how I am a bad person because I don't understand the subtle bouquet of artisanal fart-smell.
I read my local paper and a few substacks of differing ideological viewpoints. So, to me, there is no upside of education polarization because it isn't translating to cultural power, it is just empowering bad ideas from the left the way right-wing media translates into virtue-signalling legislation in Texas.
A recent example: Andrew Sullivan interviewed Brihana Joy on his podcast and it was delightful to hear two ridiculously intelligent people bat ideas around. That is the cultural hegemony I want; core liberal values of empiricism, debate and free speech. But when Andrew pointed out that 'defund the police' was a brilliant slogan to sweep Trumpy Republicans into power, Joy sternly lectured him, asserting that 'defund the police' actually means 'increase police funding and reallocate resources to better serve the community' and that he was willfully misunderstanding 'the movement'. Then she played the race card. In other words, fuck you for not adopting our faculty lounge lexicon of literal irony where words mean their opposite; also, you're racist.
To me, that is what the cultural hegemony of education polarization is delivering; a lefty purity spiral that aggressively and gleefully sics the Thought Police on anyone who deviates even slightly from The Party. That is the highly-educated mirror image of the dumb righty purity spiral that demands absolute fealty to the alternate reality where Trump won in 2020 and Democrats are a whisker from implementing full-blown socialist totalitarianism using Jewish space lasers and Italian satellites.
Democrats believe as do their voters that they are the party that supports the working class (minimum wage, unions, etc…), but if the educational polarization continues, then s their an inflection point where Democrat voters abandon the working class and pivot to policies that only support themselves.
Student Loan Forgiveness is one of the issues on the forefront on this. Most blue collar workers don’t go to college and don’t obviously benefit from this, whereas the rising creative educated class will.
And I suppose the same question goes for Republicans… at what point do they alter.
As I have said before, I honestly think there’s a scenario where the parties switch sides at least economically.
You mention "privatizing" Social Security as one of those awful ideas Republicans proposed. The GWB 2005 proposal was to allow people to divert part of their Social Security taxes into an investment account for their own benefit. It was soundly beaten back by Democrats and Progressives.
Since 1/1/2005, as measured by the VTI (an ETF tracking the total stock market), the stock market is up by 427%, for a CAGR of 10.4%. Thank goodness we didn't allow workers to participate in that growth and left it all to the rich.
In sitting in Massachusetts, me and all my friends with doctorates and professional degrees, waiting for my blue state utopia. I’ve wondered why we don’t just go for it. We have a Republican governor now, but we didn’t a few years ago, so I don’t think it’s that. Plus, we got our “commonwealth care” during the Romney years.
How does the blue state utopia project intersect with Milan’s piece about state legislatures not working well?
I agree with all the points, but I still worry a little that we were better off when we had the totally misinformed "cracked" into small minorities in each party... By "packing" them into the GOP, they can actually win primaries with candidates who do not make sense from a policy perspective.
The old structures kept the elites in charge of two adversarial camps, so at the end of the day you would get elite-approved leaders who had the approval of their side. That was probably more a more effective way to run the country.
I was a follower of the Free State Project, the libertarian effort to first identify a target and then get libertarians to move there and swing the state's politics to being a laboratory for libertarianism. They ended up picking New Hampshire and ran into some problems, such as bears, but it's an interesting idea.
So what about the liberal, high education utopia project? The Scandinavia of the United States? You can handwave at California and New York being larger than Finland, but would you really pick those large states?
Perhaps kill two birds with one stone and identify a small red state that still has some appeal to upscale liberals, and like with the Free State Project encourage liberals to move there so that you can both turn it into Scandinavia as well as swing a state blue?
Depending on your flavor of liberalism, Alaska already has a UBI, just funded by oil, so you could build on that.
I think Utah is the most highly educated consistently red state?
Progressives' cultural hegemony is way more useful than electoral majorities at getting their agenda enacted. They control the institutions that actually have power in the country. Consider how they won on transgender ideology, gay marriage, DACA, affirmative action, etc. Chris Caldwell explains in The Age of Entitlement:
Elites want something.
They use the institutions they control to advocate for that thing. One way they do this is having corporations or nonprofits they control sponsor a court case.
Federal judges, who are progressive elites, rule that civil rights law must be applied in a new way and the unpopular policy elites wanted is now the law.
Corporations, educators, and the media manufacture consent afterwards and it becomes normal.
State level utopias are harder to create than MY admits. If NY enacted sharply progressive taxes, its best taxpayers (rich people and corporations) could move to Connecticut or New Jersey. That just isn’t the case in Europe. Language ties many professional Europeans to their home country. If France soaks the rich, Koln is much further from Paris than Jersey City is from Manhattan and very few French speak German well enough to hold down professional jobs. Poland is the Texas of Europe, it has cheap labor, relatively light regulations and is happy to manufacture things, but moving to Warsaw is hardly appealing for the French haute bourgeoisie. Florida, on the other hand, has no income tax, a lovely climate for old people, and arguably better leisure amenities than New York. You might need to fly from Miami to NY for live theater, but that’s not a huge reason to stay.
As for the fact that many researchers now are on the left of center, I think another big factor is that most of the American Right just ceded that ideas ground and became more intransigent, and that's true for both MAGA folks and Never Trumpers, even the light ones. Many ideas current being sold as center or center-left could easily fit a reasonable definition of a center-right agenda, which is why in many respects Boris Johnson's agenda is closer to Biden's than to most conservatives in America.
For instance, I was struck by how relatively little tribute conservatives paid at the death of Brent Scowcroft a few years ago. The guy was a Republican and is generally recognized as one of the greatest minds in modern foreign policy, a Bismarck of our times, etc,etc....and alas, he wrote op-eds both opposing the Iraq War and defending the JCPOA. In different proportions I see similar stuff with Republicans like Jay Powell and John Roberts.....
The window for what is "true" conservatism in America today is just too narrow, so naturally some intellectuals today would rather be out of it than conform.
The leftward bias in the media has been a problem for decades. That's one of the main reasons that right leaning media like Rush and Fox News took off. I'll grant that its gotten worse lately.
As for the leftward bias in education. It's not just with the professors, it's also with the administration. Basically all of your universities have large diversity and inclusion departments now.
In addition, this starts before university, in particular at your top prep schools. They are all likely to have woke outreach as well.
I think I saw Alan Cole making the argument on twitter that while privatizing social security is anathema to voters, current retirees would have benefitted from the massive run-up in stock prices that have occurred since the great recession.
Looking back from the future, one narrative that might be told of the century in American politics that began somewhere between the 1930s and 1960s is that northern leaders of the Democrats, traditional American party of the unwashed uneducated masses, saw an opportunity to expand the party's working class base by bringing into the mainstream fold of American society the largest excluded group - black voters. But that alienated many white Democrats, and the Republican Party, which by then was no longer living on the fumes of its cultural progressive abolitionist roots, and had become merely about protecting wealth and power, took those working class voters in, in what at first seemed like a cynical bargain to shore up the plutocrats at the top with culture war distractions. But eventually the Republican party came to reflect the economic interests of it's new base of working class voters and racial division fades in importance compared to class and economic issues as the Civil Rights movement receded in the past. And the Democratic Party came to reflect the economic interests of its new base of educated, professional, managerial class voters. We'll see....
My Karl Popper alarm is ringing. I’ve been reading these essays on education and they end up explaining too much. Dems win elections because of their education base. Dems lose elections because they can’t reach beyond their education base. Nice journalistic boiler plate. (This is common. Earlier this week at the start of the day the investment media was writing stocks rally on West Texas crude then at the end of the day it was stocks fell because of the same thing.) We ask people in exit polls lots of questions and our regressions have shown the education variable has a sig coefficient, but ed today is not the same as 40 years ago and neither are college classes or college students; employers are not using BAs to screen in the same ways, and political parties are very different. This smells like a sampling issue to me where we landed on a variable that is correlated with something simply because it is so big and noisy that something in it is jumping up and down with the voting variable. Until we know more what education means we are using it to over explain. We need a testable hypothesis and education is just too broad. It explains everything and is therefore … kinda useless.
I am listening, but unconvinced, that a segment of the left is interested in cultural hegemony even among their notional political allies. We can argue about how many of these people there are, but there definitely are people who have a sizeable personal stake in identifying just how liberal/progressive/left they are. Many of them do this in part by contrasting themselves with boring normie Democrats who don't know what DEI stands for, or still use the gross gendered "latino/latina", or aren't up to date with the latest inclusions in whatever LGBTQ has grown into.
These people could be safely ignored if they didn't appear to represent a dangerous fraction of low-level Congressional staffers.
This is a great point about advantages liberals/progressives enjoy in the United States—but it raises a question of universal applicability: the Center-left everywhere has had this issue of education polarization—from the socialists in Germany and France to probably most severely UK Labour. But the UK in particular does *not* have cultural or especially media support for Labour, progressive discourse or cultural openness.
The media in the UK are, perhaps uniquely in a Western democracy, avowedly Center-right if not Right.
What is the trade-off then for UK Labour? For languishing social democrats in Europe, which don’t enjoy cultural progressive hegemony in, e.g., Greece or Italy?
"What I *do* think is knowable is that the GOP will struggle to maintain its non-college gains if it goes back to austerity politics."
I think this line, and your analysis, overestimates the extent to which the modern GOP base votes on policy, and underestimates the extent to which politicians are comfortable with cognitive dissonance. If the GOP pursues a wildly unpopular austerity campaign, they'll just tell their base it's because the Democrats spent all your money on healthcare for transgender immigrants or whatever. The marching orders are "animate the base with culture war chum" and I don't expect that to change based on policy outcomes or reality.