The Most Liberal and Conservative College Neighborhoods

While most of the country trended rightward in 2016, most areas high in college degrees swung left. This, combined with an uptick in vocal and sometimes violent campus protests related to social and identity politics, led to accusations of university campuses as “echo chambers” and “bubbles.” While “ivory tower” imagery is nothing new, rarely has the disconnect between campus politics and national politics been as polemic as now.

It’s no secret college counties tend to vote blue, even when surrounded by seas of red. Athens County, Ohio; Douglas County, Kansas; Monroe County, Indiana; Clarke County, Georgia; Clay County, South Dakota; Latah County, Idaho; Whitman County, Washington; Alachua County, Florida; and Tompkins County, New York all stand alone in their respective states as either solitary enlightened islands rising amid irrational seas or loathsome pits of smug decadence in danger of crossing the Tolman-Oppenheimer-Volkoff limit, depending on your point of view. Most colleges, however, don’t get the luxury of their own county, and are instead lost in large urban metropolises or suburban sprawl.

How liberal are universities? It’s very difficult to measure exactly. Voting results, especially precinct level results, can suggest an answer, but they do so imperfectly; after all, is a majority-black precinct which votes 80% for a Democratic candidate actually more liberal than a majority-white precinct which votes only 75% Democratic, when black voters, despite voting as a bloc, tend to hold relatively more conservative, or at least more diverse, views on many issues than similarly-voting white voters (For example, black voters famously voted for Proposition 8 in 2008 despite simultaneously voting down the line for Barack Obama)? Maybe not, but it’s still the most accurate and in-depth proxy available to us.

With this limitation in mind, I set out to measure just how “liberal” or “conservative” the neighborhoods extending one mile in radius from the campus centers of all major non-profit universities in the United States with at 10,000 students enrolled in 2016 are. Given the relatively high rate of third-party voting near college campuses (especially in the West and among Mormons), I defined “liberal” as the sum of Clinton and Stein’s vote shares and “conservative” as the sum of Trump, Johnson, McMullin, and Castle’s vote shares (yes, Johnson is a libertarian, but most of his voters came from the right). The first list shows the former minus the latter (i.e. the most “liberal” university environs):

Most Left Clinton Trump Johnson McMullin Stein Left-Right
University of Chicago 92.8% 2.8% 1.2% 0.0% 2.0% 90.8%
Temple University 92.9% 4.7% 1.0% 0.0% 1.1% 88.3%
Wayne State University 91.7% 4.2% 1.3% 0.0% 1.8% 87.9%
New York City College of Technology 91.5% 4.9% 1.3% 0.0% 1.5% 86.9%
University of California-Berkeley 88.0% 4.3% 1.6% 0.0% 4.0% 86.0%
Fordham University 90.5% 7.2% 0.6% 0.0% 1.3% 84.0%
University of San Francisco 88.7% 5.7% 2.3% 0.0% 2.4% 83.1%
Yale University 89.8% 7.3% 1.2% 0.2% 1.5% 82.5%
University of Southern California 87.9% 6.7% 1.6% 0.0% 2.5% 82.1%
University of California-Santa Cruz 84.2% 6.1% 2.5% 0.0% 6.2% 81.7%
Rutgers University-Newark 88.9% 8.8% 0.6% 0.0% 1.0% 80.4%
St. Louis University 88.2% 7.7% 1.8% 0.0% 1.2% 79.7%
Case Western Reserve University 88.7% 8.6% 1.6% 0.0% 1.0% 79.5%
California State University-Dominguez Hills 87.8% 8.9% 1.2% 0.0% 1.6% 79.4%
Youngstown State University 88.5% 9.0% 1.2% 0.0% 0.9% 79.2%
Drexel University 87.6% 9.0% 1.7% 0.0% 1.1% 78.0%
Duke University 88.0% 8.1% 2.3% 0.0% 0.0% 77.7%
Northwestern University 86.9% 7.5% 3.1% 0.0% 1.3% 77.6%
Loyola University-Chicago 85.1% 8.8% 2.1% 0.0% 2.9% 77.2%
University of California-Davis 83.5% 7.1% 3.5% 0.0% 3.7% 76.6%
University of Missouri-St. Louis 86.8% 9.5% 1.7% 0.0% 1.0% 76.3%
Georgetown University 83.2% 6.4% 2.2% 0.1% 1.3% 75.7%
University of Washington 83.5% 7.3% 3.3% 0.0% 2.9% 75.6%
Lamar University 86.9% 10.9% 1.4% 0.0% 0.7% 75.3%
Cornell University 84.0% 9.1% 2.4% 0.0% 2.8% 75.3%
Columbia University 85.7% 10.3% 1.5% 0.0% 1.4% 75.3%
Syracuse University 84.8% 9.7% 2.2% 0.0% 2.4% 75.3%
Harvard University 84.7% 9.2% 2.6% 0.1% 1.8% 74.5%
Hofstra University 85.8% 11.7% 0.9% 0.0% 1.2% 74.5%
Portland State University 82.6% 8.6% 2.8% 0.0% 3.3% 74.4%

 

These universities come in two flavors: residing within or immediately adjacent to minority-majority neighborhoods or majority-white/Asian and thus almost undoubtedly “liberal.” Of the thirty listed above, these universities fall in the latter firmly “liberal” camp: UC-Berkeley, USF, Yale, UC-Santa Cruz, Northwestern (a prominent launching-point university for journalists and political pundits), UC-Davis, Georgetown, Washington, Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, and Portland State.

Here’s a similar list for the most “conservative” universities neighborhoods in 2016:

Most Right Clinton Trump Johnson McMullin Stein Left-Right
Brigham Young University-Idaho 7.9% 51.8% 5.0% 33.5% 0.5% -82.8%
Utah Valley University 16.0% 46.9% 3.6% 29.9% 0.8% -64.7%
University of North Georgia 18.0% 78.0% 4.0% 0.0% 0.0% -64.0%
Liberty University 18.5% 73.4% 4.1% 3.6% 0.4% -62.2%
Brigham Young University 19.8% 32.5% 3.7% 41.4% 0.6% -57.9%
Tarleton State University 20.6% 73.7% 4.1% 0.0% 0.8% -56.5%
University of West Florida 26.1% 68.9% 3.0% 0.0% 0.7% -45.3%
Arkansas State University 27.1% 65.7% 3.3% 1.8% 0.8% -43.5%
Auburn University 27.7% 68.8% 2.4% 0.0% 0.5% -43.0%
St. Leo University 27.7% 67.8% 2.6% 0.0% 0.6% -42.4%
Utah State University 27.7% 33.6% 4.2% 31.0% 1.1% -40.9%
Arkansas Tech University 27.8% 64.8% 3.4% 1.5% 1.7% -40.5%
Troy University 29.3% 65.2% 3.7% 0.0% 0.4% -39.2%
Fort Hays State University 28.9% 64.5% 4.2% 0.2% 2.2% -37.9%
Davenport University-Grand Rapids 31.5% 62.6% 4.4% 0.0% 1.2% -34.6%
University of Central Oklahoma 32.8% 58.0% 9.1% 0.0% 0.0% -34.3%
Tennessee Technological University 31.6% 62.8% 3.4% 0.3% 1.2% -33.8%
Florida Gulf Coast University 33.1% 62.2% 3.0% 0.0% 0.6% -31.6%
University of Southern Indiana 33.8% 59.4% 5.2% 0.0% 0.0% -30.8%
Saginaw Valley State University 34.2% 61.1% 3.2% 0.0% 0.7% -29.5%
Murray State University 34.5% 57.1% 4.0% 2.2% 1.3% -27.5%
University of Alabama 34.9% 57.6% 4.5% 0.0% 0.7% -26.5%
University of Central Missouri 35.4% 55.5% 7.1% 0.0% 1.4% -26.5%
Southeast Missouri State University 35.3% 58.1% 4.0% 0.0% 1.3% -25.9%
South Dakota State University 38.2% 50.9% 9.6% 0.0% 0.0% -23.5%
University of Colorado-Colorado Springs 36.5% 53.4% 6.4% 1.3% 1.5% -23.5%
Weber State University 36.9% 37.3% 4.2% 18.2% 1.4% -21.8%
Southern Methodist University 38.7% 55.8% 4.9% 0.0% 0.6% -21.4%
Indiana Wesleyan University 38.8% 54.6% 5.5% 0.0% 0.0% -21.2%
Grand Valley State University 37.7% 55.0% 4.7% 0.0% 1.4% -20.8%

 

Three of the top five universities on this list are heavily Mormon and saw very high McMullin vote shares. Several more tend to be known as highly religious schools while the others mostly reside in the South or Midwest. None of these schools are regarded as particularly “prestigious” by most mainstream media classifications, but some are quite highly-regarded within their respective in-groups.

The depth of Mormon college neighborhood antipathy toward Trump can be demonstrated by their strength on the following chart, demonstrating the highest non-Clinton and non-Trump vote shares in college neighborhoods:

Most Third-Party Clinton Trump Johnson McMullin Stein Castle All Third
Brigham Young University 19.8% 32.5% 3.7% 41.4% 0.6% 0.7% 47.7%
Brigham Young University-Idaho 7.9% 51.8% 5.0% 33.5% 0.5% 0.9% 40.3%
Utah State University 27.7% 33.6% 4.2% 31.0% 1.1% 1.0% 38.7%
Utah Valley University 16.0% 46.9% 3.6% 29.9% 0.8% 1.1% 37.1%
Weber State University 36.9% 37.3% 4.2% 18.2% 1.4% 0.4% 25.8%
University of Idaho 49.3% 26.8% 9.1% 4.8% 3.6% 2.4% 23.9%
Idaho State University 36.7% 41.1% 6.5% 10.1% 2.5% 0.6% 22.3%
Eastern Washington University 45.7% 35.9% 8.5% 0.0% 3.4% 0.9% 18.4%
University of Utah 68.3% 13.9% 3.0% 11.4% 1.8% 0.1% 17.7%
University of Wyoming 46.1% 37.4% 8.9% 0.0% 2.3% 0.8% 16.6%
New Mexico State University 55.3% 29.8% 10.9% 1.0% 2.2% 0.4% 14.9%
Boise State University 57.6% 27.9% 6.9% 3.3% 2.9% 0.7% 14.5%
North Dakota State University 43.9% 42.4% 8.3% 0.0% 2.2% 0.5% 13.7%
Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo 65.4% 21.9% 6.4% 0.0% 3.0% 0.0% 12.7%
University of Northern Colorado 48.6% 38.8% 6.8% 1.0% 1.9% 0.7% 12.6%
University of New Mexico 75.2% 12.2% 8.2% 0.4% 3.3% 0.1% 12.6%
Oregon State University 71.7% 15.9% 5.8% 0.0% 3.5% 0.0% 12.4%
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale 70.4% 17.2% 5.3% 0.0% 4.7% 0.0% 12.4%
Washington State University 69.5% 18.4% 7.7% 0.0% 3.1% 0.7% 12.1%
University of Minnesota-Duluth 60.3% 27.6% 5.9% 1.2% 2.8% 0.3% 12.1%

 

Six of the top seven schools on this list are located in either Utah or eastern Idaho. Among those schools not heavily Mormon, the University of Idaho showed particularly strong performances across the board by third party candidates: Gary Johnson, Evan McMullin, Jill Stein, and especially Darrell Castle all earned much higher tallies there than average. Schools in the West, especially the interior West, tend to populate the rest of the non-Mormon list; the only notable exceptions are Southern Illinois-Carbondale and Minnesota-Duluth.

Returning to the original charge of universities comprising “bubbles,” one interesting measure might be to look at universities where their neighborhood most differs from their county as a whole. Below are the “liberal” neighborhoods which most stand out from their respective counties:

Liberal Bubbles L-R Compared to County
Wichita State University 88.6%
Lamar University 76.5%
Youngstown State University 76.2%
Yale University 70.2%
Hofstra University 68.0%
University of Tennessee-Chattanooga 65.1%
Syracuse University 61.3%
University of Missouri-St. Louis 61.1%
Miami University (Ohio) 55.4%
Savannah College of Art and Design 55.3%

 

Once again, a number of these universities reside in minority-white neighborhoods in otherwise majority-white counties. In fact, Miami University in Ohio is perhaps the only one I’d comfortably say in not at all due to this effect, although Yale, Tennessee-Chattanooga, and Wichita State are border cases.

On the opposite side, we see religious schools and majority-white islands in otherwise minority-majority counties:

Conservative Bubbles L-R Compared to County
Liberty University -46.0%
Southern Methodist University -43.2%
University of Texas at Dallas -36.6%
Cal State University-Long Beach -26.8%
Florida International University -25.9%
Saginaw Valley State University -25.7%
University of West Florida -22.5%
Long Island University -19.4%
St. Leo University -18.8%
Auburn University -18.5%

 

Florida International University is something of an exception as it inhabits a heavily Cuban portion of Miami-Dade County which votes much more Republican than surrounding white areas. The only public university on this list which may not owe its appearance to racial differences may be Auburn, but it’s hard to tell for sure.

Lastly, here’s the average vote by NCAA conference. Among the major sports conferences, the Pac-12 is most liberal, while the SEC is most conservative. Including minor conferences, the Ivy League tops the liberal list while the Ohio Valley Conference tops the conservative side.

By NCAA Conference Clinton Trump Johnson McMullin Stein Left-Right
Ivy League 86.0% 9.2% 2.0% 0.1% 1.8% 76.5%
University Athletic Association (UAA) 81.6% 13.8% 2.5% 0.0% 1.2% 66.4%
Pac-12 Conference 77.3% 13.4% 3.9% 1.0% 2.8% 61.8%
Big East Conference 74.7% 18.9% 2.9% 0.0% 1.1% 54.0%
Big Ten Conference 74.2% 18.7% 4.1% 0.2% 1.6% 52.7%
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) 73.2% 20.4% 3.4% 0.5% 0.7% 49.6%
Big West Conference 68.4% 23.5% 4.0% 0.0% 2.9% 43.6%
Missouri Valley Conference 62.8% 20.8% 5.0% 0.1% 2.2% 38.8%
Horizon League 66.6% 23.5% 2.9% 0.0% 1.2% 36.3%
Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) 66.1% 27.4% 3.8% 0.8% 1.3% 35.5%
America East Conference 63.3% 29.1% 3.9% 0.1% 1.9% 32.1%
Mountain West Conference 60.5% 26.1% 5.6% 3.5% 2.0% 26.9%
Conference USA 61.4% 32.3% 3.3% 0.2% 1.3% 26.8%
Big 12 Conference 59.4% 31.2% 6.7% 0.4% 1.4% 22.7%
Big Sky Conference 54.7% 30.3% 6.3% 3.1% 2.7% 17.2%
Southeastern Conference (SEC) 56.2% 36.2% 4.5% 0.4% 1.3% 16.3%
Summit League 56.4% 35.7% 5.8% 0.1% 0.8% 15.3%
Southland Conference 55.5% 38.5% 3.6% 0.5% 1.2% 14.0%
Sun Belt Conference 50.0% 42.7% 4.8% 0.4% 1.2% 3.1%
Ohio Valley Conference 42.8% 50.8% 3.0% 0.1% 1.0% -10.1%