The Ivy Coach Daily

April 18, 2024

Are Ivy League Schools More Liberal or Conservative?

Columbia University’s red-bricked buildings are featured beyond the black iron gates.

Colloquial knowledge would have one believe that the eight Ivy League schools span the political spectrum. Dartmouth, with its preponderance of Greek life, and Princeton, with its old-guard eating clubs, supposedly fall on the right hand side of the political divide, followed by the staunchly pre-professional Cornell and Penn sitting slightly to the left while still remaining bastions of conservatism. Harvard sits in the center, attempting to please everyone by declining to condescend to either side. Yale and Columbia represent a slightly more liberal and activist element of that same Harvard brand of centrism, and Brown supposedly sits proudly and squarely on the left, with its open curriculum and counter-cultural legacy. But are these stereotypes true? Of course, no Ivy has an official political affiliation, and admissions officers from all schools pride themselves on creating diverse cohorts of students, with political ideology serving as an important metric of this diversity.

The Ivy League Schools Ranked: From Most Conservative to Most Liberal

All that being said, if Ivy Coach were to rank the eight Ivy League institutions from most conservative to most liberal, we would do so as follows:

  1. Princeton University
  2. Dartmouth College
  3. Cornell University
  4. University of Pennsylvania
  5. Harvard University
  6. Yale University
  7. Columbia University
  8. Brown University

Ivy League Political Affiliations: Faculty and Students

How Ivy League Faculty Votes

The truth, it would appear, is as complicated as the stereotypes are reductive. Whether the political leanings of a university are the product of the faculty and staff’s beliefs, or the students’, is up for debate. An infamous 2023 survey of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences by The Harvard Crimson found that 77% of Harvard faculty identified as “liberal” or “very liberal,” followed by 20% as “moderate,” and fewer than 3% as “conservative” or “very conservative.” A similar survey conducted by The Yale Daily News found that nearly 100% of political donations from Yale faculty went to Democrats in 2023. 

Certain news outlets have taken such data, which consistently finds that Ivy League faculty are left-leaning, and ran with the conclusion that Ivy League schools fail to foster learning environments where a diversity of viewpoints can be expressed. But data shows a greater disparity of opinions when faculty are questioned about specific issues, like academic freedom, climate change, and sexual harassment on campus. For example, 52% of tenure-track faculty at Harvard “strongly agree” that “academic freedom in America is under threat,” but only 27% of non-tenure track faculty agree, and The Crimson notes that there wasn’t a consensus as to whether this threat comes from the right or the left.

How Ivy League Student Bodies Vote

Some student-run newspapers at Ivy League schools survey the incoming or graduating classes to gauge their political ideology. The Dartmouth found in 2023 that 58% of Dartmouth undergraduates identify as Democrats, and 12% identify as Republicans. The Daily Princetonian’s Class of 2027 First-Year survey found that 69% of first-year students identify as “somewhat” or “very” left leaning, but for certain left-wing issues, like trans sports participation and police abolition, fewer than half were in favor. The Brown Daily Herald also surveyed their Class of 2027, and found that the percentage of students identifying as “somewhat” or “very” liberal came to 71.6%, a mere 2.6 points higher than Princeton, which supposedly lies on the other side of the political spectrum.

Why the Politics of the Ivy League Remains Difficult to Parse

Newspaper survey data is not a silver bullet when it comes to gauging the values of such a varied group of people across so many institutions. For one thing, there is no comparative analysis across Ivy League schools. Additionally, as the data we’ve shared indicates, while people at elite institutions may unite behind left-leaning labels, further scrutiny reveals a greater diversity of opinions than one might think. 

At Ivy Coach, we can say with certainty that the narrative that Ivy League schools discriminate against students with conservative viewpoints is untrue. In fact, we’ve found that the opposite is true: between applicants with the same application, a student who expresses conservative viewpoints on their application is more likely to be admitted. Admissions committees seek to build an incoming class with a diversity of opinions, and when most applicants (and therefore students) in the Ivy League have left-leaning views, dissenting politics stand out.

But what about the stereotypes? Surely Brown is for hippy Democrats and Dartmouth is for straight-laced Republicans, right? We reply, does low socioeconomic diversity, a preference for legacy applicants, and a deep-seated relationship with corporate America reflect right wing affiliation? If so, all of the Ivies would fall into that category. The same could be said about left wing affiliation if one were to focus on a different set of characteristics. Campus culture and political leanings are two separate things. For prospective applicants seeking to gauge the political culture of any of the campuses they are interested in, the surveys are a good place to start, but the testimony of current students is the best data on the market. Politics are subjective, and what makes campus home to some might make it hostile to others.

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