Academic Voters Could Push Obama to Victory in Key Swing States

Although the group is solidly Democratic, McCain isn't giving up on them without a fight.

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Ivory towers. Faculty members are a different story, since they long have been consistent in their political leanings and vote in droves, says Solon Simmons, coauthor of a study published last year, "The Social and Political Views of American Professors." He found 51 percent of faculty members identify themselves as Democrats, 35 percent as independents, and 14 percent as Republicans. The research involved 1,417 full-time faculty members who taught undergraduate courses. According to the study, professors who reported voting in the 2004 election broke 78 percent for John Kerry, 20 percent for George W. Bush, and 2 percent for others. Ninety-six percent said they voted in that election—not surprising, since voting levels correlate with educational attainment. However, the study found younger faculty were more apt to be politically moderate than their older colleagues.

Although Obama should count most faculty in his camp, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert in political communication at the University of Pennsylvania, cautions against painting professors with too broad a brush. Some colleges feature liberals and conservatives cheek by jowl; others, many of them religious schools, are staunchly conservative. Meantime, less is known about teachers at community colleges and technical and trade schools.

To presidential campaigns, students represent more than potential votes. They are young, energetic, and tech-savvy and often have free time, so many are recruited as foot soldiers. "Who else is going to put in 16-hour days for very low pay?" asks Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire. He says his school on its own is unlikely to make a difference in his battleground state. But if the race remains close, and if one adds campuses such as Dartmouth College and Keene State College to the mix, then voting by the so-called academics could be critical to the outcome of the election in the Granite State and other contested states across the country.