The Changing Impact of Higher Education; Voters' Choices Should Be Cause for Concern to Republicans

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 31, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Changing Impact of Higher Education; Voters' Choices Should Be Cause for Concern to Republicans


Byline: Gary Andres, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Since modern polling began in the 1940s, surveys have demonstrated educational attainment shapes political behavior. Higher levels of schooling correlate with increased turnout, interest in politics and efforts to persuade others how to vote. It also influences partisan attachments and vote choice.

The interaction of education's impact on politics along with an increase in the number of voters with advanced schooling is changing elections in America.

Surveys during the middle part of the 20th century found those with higher levels of education sided with Republicans, while less-educated Americans aligned with Democrats. But over the last 20 years or so, this pattern has begun to shift. Compared to the 1950-80 period, Republicans have improved their results with less-educated voters and Democrats have gained among those with college degrees. Ron Brownstein agrees and calls this pattern class inversion. Writing in National Journal recently, he argues: In the middle decades of the 20th century when economic class served as the principal glue for the two parties' coalitions, Democratic presidential nominees Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter all ran at least 13 percentage points better among white voters without a college education than among whites with college or post-graduate degrees, according to the University of Michigan's American National Election Studies [ANES], an exhaustive post-election poll.

The graphic below plotting the presidential choice of voters with college degrees, including those with graduate degrees, underscores this point. With the exception of 1964, which was an aberrational election, it shows a broad Republican advantage until about 1992 that shrinks considerably in recent elections.

Looking at the differences between white men and white women with college degrees is particularly striking. Democrats now poll better with higher-educated voters in general compared to 20 years ago. But the most dramatic GOP deficit emerges among women with college degrees. …

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