The Greens and the Bell-Curve

by | Nov 6, 2008

A little article on the Times website caught our eye.

Cleverer children are more likely to vote for the Green Party or the Liberal Democrats in a general election than other parties when they become adults, research suggests. The study, by the University of Edinburgh and the UK Medical Research Council and published in the journal Intelligence, indicates that childhood IQ is as important as social class in determining political allegiance. The IQs of more than 6,000 subjects were recorded at the age of 10, before any secondary schooling. Twenty-four years later they were asked about their voting habits.

This contradicts our experience of Greens. But this is science. So let’s not put our experience above the scientific method.

The Times article is a bit misleading. The abstract of the journal article ( ) says

People with higher childhood intelligence were more likely to vote in the 2001 election (38% increased prevalence per SD increase in intelligence), and were more likely to vote for the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats (49% and 47% increased prevalence per SD increase in intelligence, respectively). The intelligence-Green party voting association was largely accounted for by occupational social class, the intelligence-Liberal Democrat voting association was not.

So, in fact, the more posh you are, the more likely you are to have voted Green..

When the associations between intelligence test scores and party voting were additionally adjusted for occupational social class, the association with voting for the Green Party was attenuated by 45% (odds ratio of 1.49 changed to 1.27), and was no longer significant.

This must come as a bit of an annoyance to Mark Lynas, who, as we reported earlier in the year, believes that it’s the working class who were interested in his Green chums.

Lynas had said of a poll that,

perhaps the most fascinating result of all emerges from the small print of the different social classes of the ICM survey respondents. Environmentalists are constantly accused of being middle-class lifestyle faddists, who don’t understand the day-to-day financial pressures faced by “ordinary” working people.

The class breakdown of the individuals who participated in the study, and who voted green are as follows: Professional, 9 (11.5%). Managerial/technical, 47 (60.3%). Skilled non-manual, 12 (15.4%). Skilled manual, 7 (9%). Semiskilled, 3 (3.8%). Unskilled, 0 (0%).

The accusations ring true, unfortunately for Lynas.

Nobody would be surprised that social class is reflected in voting preference. And our beef here isn’t even with the silly claim that Greens are more intelligent. What’s odd about this kind of study is that it tries to reduce voting behaviour to absurd metrics. The only way to understand how people vote the way they do is to understand how they engaged with the ideas on offer, not their ability to engage with them.

Not that this is the intentions of the study’s authors (we just think it is a bit silly), but it is a tendency of the environmental movement to look for ways to reduce its opposition to unthinking, unaware consumer-bots in order to legitimise undemocratic and authoritarian policies. Politics is about ideas. Beware politics – and social science – by numbers.


  1. geoff chambers

    IQ = “absurd metrics”? “Beware … social science by numbers”? You’re going to get us denialists accused of being anti-scientific, only quoting statistics when it suits us, etc. A pity, because you’re absolutely right on your main point; intelligence doesn’t make you vote green, but it does get you into the social class which worries, reads the Guardian, and believes any old rubbish written by an arts graduate. Orwell long ago pointed out that you need a certain level of intellectual sophistication to believe absurd authoritarian ideas. But then you have to argue for them. Or not. You can simply quote authority, of course.

  2. bwanajohn

    People of higher IQ are more likely to attend college and grad schools. This study is more likely an indication of the influence of liberal ideology being taught at our universities. More exposure = more indoctrination. I will be interesting to re-assess voter tendencies in another 10 years to see what experience teaches….

  3. wbtittle

    Yet another “study” which should “prove” nothing. Odds Ratio of 1.67. Whoopee. Another example of a murky number (IQ at young age) vs another murky statistic (“how do you vote”) generating an uncertain value (OR of 1.67 is not really that exciting) with reporters spinning it to mean something.

    Find me a study like this where the OR > 2 and where the target numbers are actually > 100. Small numbers are truly annoying as statistics.


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