Why Harvard MBAs overwhelmingly favor Obama

September 21, 2012: 9:09 AM ET

In many ways, Mitt Romney was the quintessential Harvard Business School student, and alum. So why are the current crop of Harvard MBA candidates siding with his opponent?

By John A. Byrne

(Poets&Quants) -- Mitt Romney may be a Harvard Business School alum whose most productive working years were spent at Bain & Co., one of the big time recruiters of Harvard MBAs. But Romney's affiliation with the school apparently is giving him little advantage among current MBA candidates.

A survey of second-year students at Harvard Business School by The Harbus, the student newspaper, shows President Barack Obama beating Romney in a landslide: 57% of the respondents to the survey favor Obama, with only 34% in support of Romney, who graduated from Harvard with both law and business degrees in 1975.

The Harbus polled the students through its class of 2013 Facebook group, calling the survey itself "quick and dirty data," not exactly the stuff of a Gallup or Rasmussen poll. Indeed, the newspaper didn't even provide a response rate to its poll nor indicate how many of the school's second-year students participated.

Still, the margin of preference by eligible voters at HBS is remarkably wide: Among current second-years at Harvard, Obama beats the HBS alum by a whopping 23 percentage points. Compare that to the meager three or four-point margin Obama currently enjoys in most polls of the overall public vote.

Why are Harvard MBAs so down on one of their own for president, especially an alum who had been a Baker Scholar, a distinction awarded to only the top students in every business class? By all accounts, Romney was the quintessential student, organizing an all-star study group of MBAs to prepare for Harvard's case study classes. Former classmates have described him as precise, convincing, and charismatic. Not surprisingly, Romney has had a distinguished career in business with one of the most loyal recruiters of Harvard talent over the years.

As Clark Peterson of The Harbus points out, "Romney appears to be the ideal of what 85% of HBS students want to be -- in private equity. Seriously though, the guy founded Bain Capital. Made a fortune in business. Managed high-profile projects like the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Raised a large, successful family. And he gives back to the community. God may have put Romney on Earth just to make HBS students feel downright inferior. What gives?"

Of course, the last and only occupant of the White House with an MBA degree was George W. Bush, who was a year behind Romney at Harvard Business School and was famously pictured in the yearbook blowing a massive bubble of gum. Could the current crop of MBAs be judging Romney based on the performance of a previous HBS alum in the job?

Peterson, a second-year student himself who had been a legislative aide to conservative Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), doesn't seem to think so. He believes that "Barack Obama is just a damn likable fellow, particularly to younger voters like HBS students. He seems to get it. He seems to speak the same language. There's a cultural and generational affinity."

Then, there is the Republican brand, as Peterson puts it. "The Republican brand is badly damaged among many voters whose preferences resemble our HBS sample: independent-minded, younger, upper-middle-class swing voters. To many of these voters, the GOP really puts the Old in Grand Old Party. It's likely that this Party doesn't like to party. And boy, the Republican Party is super white. There's a cultural and generational gap."

More from Poets&Quants

Join the Conversation
About This Author
John A. Byrne
John A. Byrne
Contributor , Fortune

John A. Byrne is chairman and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media Inc., a digital media startup that is launching a network of websites for the global business community, including PoetsandQuants.com, a website for analysis, news, and features on prestige MBAs and the best business education in the world. Byrne was until recently executive editor and editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com. Byrne is the author or co-author of eight books on business, leadership, and management, including two national bestsellers.

Email John
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.