Feb 23, 2015

A look at doctors' political leanings by specialty

By on Monday, February 23, 2015

 Ever wonder about how your own profession leans politically? Is it true that newspapers and media lean left? Or that the building and construction trades lean right?
Ever wonder if it's unusual for an ophthalmologist (e.g., Rand Paul) or neurosurgeon (like Ben Carson) to wind up in the Republican Party, or at least lean conservative?
There are several ways to look at this if you're a politician. You can, for example, look at speeches or voting record. You can even look at how the district they come from usually votes. But if, like Hillary Clinton, you've not been in the Senate since early in 2009, your current voting record might not be applicable to every issue.
One interesting way to approach this is to look at the donors who give to politicians to see where you are on the political spectrum, and combine that with available votes and speeches on specific issues, where available. In the past month data journalist Derek Willis and political scientist Jason McDaniel have looked at this for both Republican and Democratic candidates for president in 2016, using data collected by Crowdpac with interesting results.

Here's an example of how you might put those political rankings together, via Derek Willis:
 Notice the two current frontrunners and where they stand, based on their donors. But take a look also at Rand Paul and Ben Carson for later.
Now, you can take this one step further (using slightly older data) as Jason McDaniel did:
The second question facing Walker’s campaign is whether he is too ideologically extreme for the Republican Party. Using Adam Bonica’s data on candidate ideology, I showed that Walker is well to the right end of the conservative spectrum, residing in the ideological neighborhood of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Of course, being a strong conservative is not necessarily a disqualifying attribute for Scott Walker, given the ideological space occupied by the modern Republican Party. To get further traction on the question, I undertook a graphical exploration of how Jeb Bush and Scott Walker compare to previous Republican presidential nominees, using the candidate ideology data. The graph illustrates the ideological position of the Republican nominee from the previous six open-seat contests. The horizontal lines are the minimum and maximum ideological range for the field of candidates. Average ideology of the candidates is indicated by the red points.
Note that by this reckoning, Scott Walker would be the most conservative candidate in years while Jeb Bush is more of a traditionally conservative figure. But also note how that red dot has moved right since Reagan, along with the Republican Party. [For a critique of whether you can really compare ideology from then and now, see Sean Trende and David Byler as well as comments by Ed Kilgore and Kevin Drum. ]
As an aside, if you want to make the case for Rubio v. Walker rather than Bush v. Walker,Nate Silver looks at that in a different way, via what the Iowa polls say about ideology.
By donor data, Rubio is less conservative than Walker, closer to the red dot average for the R candidates. But Bush would have to fade for Rubio to make his move. That's another discussion for another day, but at least it explains why Rubio hasn't been covered with crispy toast stories like Christie has.
Setting all that aside, the database looks at the donors to the candidates, but having ascribed an ideology score, you can also look at the donors themselves. Crowdpac has done this, and has a very interesting "look by profession." Being a pediatrician, I was most interested to see whether we look more like newspapers and print media or maybe, mining. You can click at the top of this post or here for a larger view of the Crowdpac data on doctors.
See the bottom left quadrant? That's (for a doctor) smallest salaries and most liberal political contributions. That's where pediatricians and pediatric subspecialties (all of them) lie.
See the top half of the graph? That's where the surgeons are. The red dot to the upper left is the ophthalmologists represented politically by Rand Paul, and the red dot to the upper right is the group of neurosurgeons represented by Ben Carson (neurosurgeons make a lot more than ophthalmologists, so it's all the way to the right).
There's an obvious correlation between higher salaries and more conservative viewpoint, but there's also a difference ideologically between surgeons and non-surgeons. That latter point would come as no surprise to anyone who works in health care, by the way. But it is interesting that on the lower salary leftmost third of the graph, encompassing well more than half of all specialties, only ophthalmologists fall in the conservative upper part.
Take note, Republicans. If you really want a conservative M.D. candidate, recruit an orthopedic spine surgeon. No one is more conservative than they are.
As for the Democrats, well, Howard Dean was an internist. Look where they are on the graph.
As an aside, some of the best tweetiatricians (tweeting pediatricians) are infectious disease docs. Look where they are.
Now, you can judge a person by their words. You can judge a person by their actions. But there are times you can simply judge a person by the company they keep.


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