Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Education Gap

The education gap in candidate support has been getting a lot of attention during this election cycle, including in a Toni Monkovic had the other day at The Upshot.   I take up this issue in my new book,  Altered States, where I examine the impact of state-to-state differences in education and other demographic characteristics on presidential outcomes in the states. The educational divide in politics is not new, but it has been growing over time, in part in response to increased ideological divergence among party elites, and it currently stands as one of the most important explanations of party success in state-level presidential outcomes.

The figure below illustrates the changing nature of the relationship between education and presidential outcomes in the states.  The dependent variable (vertical axis) is the Democratic share of the statewide two-party vote and the independent variable (horizontal axis) is the percent of the citizen voting age population (CVAP) with advanced degrees.  This scatterplot matrix clearly shows the increased salience of education to presidential outcomes in the states over time.  Although there is a modest relationship in 1972 (not coincidentally, a year with ideologically distinct candidates), there is essentially no connection between  education and presidential outcomes from 1976 through 1988; then, beginning in 1992, the relationship grew stronger with each successive election until it peaked in 2008, and then receded very slightly in 2012.

The evolution of this pattern of relationships is summarized more clearly in the figure below, which plots the partial correlations1 for the relationship between education level and Democratic support in the states over time.  Again, there is a striking pattern of increased importance over time.  

The Relationship between Level of Education and State-level 
Presidential Outcomes, 1972-2012

The evolving relationship between education and state-level outcomes in presidential elections reflects a tendency found across multiple measures of state-level demographic and political characteristics, including occupational status, religiosity, partisanship, ideology, and others.  
Finally, changes in education levels are connected to changes in support for Democratic presidential candidates.  The figure below examines changes in the average levels of both variables from 1972-1980 to 2004-2012, showing a clear positive relationship between increases in education levels and increases in Democratic support.  Democrats made their greatest gains among those state with the greatest educational grains and suffered their greatest losses among those states with the smallest gains in level of education:

Change in Centered Democratic Vote Share and Change 
in of CVAP with Advanced Degrees
Note: Changes in both variables are measured from 1972-1980 (averaged) to 2004-2012 (averaged). 
Adapted from Altered States.

1The partial correlations control for southern regional effects during the Carter (1976, 1980) and Clinton (1992, 1996) candidacies, as well as presidential and vic-presidential home state advantages.

1 comment:

  1. I've noticed several articles recently emphasizing the extent of the rural-urban divide in recent elections as well -- even in smaller cities like Muncie and Reading. It would very interesting to see the 3-way correlations between voter preference, education, and urbanity (or whatever the right word is).