Follow Up: College Education and Voting

The basic problem with the chart in the last post is that it tells you nothing about how college educated voters actually voted, but invites the viewer to infer college-educated voter behavior anyway – which just isn’t possible with the given information.  Word Problem: If 35% of a state’s potential voters are college educated, and Obama collected 55% of the actual vote in that state, how many college educated  voters in that state voted for Obama? As is most ofter the case in real science, the correct answer is: we don’t know. Obama could have received 55% of the vote without getting any votes at all from college educated voters. Or Obama might have gotten all the college educated votes. There’s not enough information to say – not that it’s stopping people.

So, the question remains: Which presidential candidate got the most votes from voters with college degrees? One problem is that articles addressing this question rarely just give you the raw numbers. One is tempted to say they are pre-spun for our enjoyment. Be that as it may, here in this NYT article,  we see a decent summary of the history of college educated voters from the 80s until now. Basically, back in the 1980s, college educated voters went overwhelmingly to Reagan and Republicans in general, and have since then, as the American educational system has cratered,  slowly slid towards Democrats. (That was a joke! At least mostly!).  So now, it’s about even or even a little Dem-leaning. But the idea that a college degree = a strong Dem leaning is false, even today.

But you’d absolutely be unable to tell any of that from the data in the chart.  The needed information just isn’t there.

For the current election, all I’ve been able to dig up is some exit poll data, which is suspect on a number of levels*, but probably OK for this purpose:

The main thing to note is that there is no strong relationship between college education and voting Democrat or Republican, except among the 18% of voters with postgraduate degrees – and there are plenty of snarky comments about *that* that shall not escape the barrier of my keyboard.  For now.

Bottom line: even granting the highly dubious claim that college education = smart, no college = dumb, it’s simple not true that smart people generally voted for Obama, while it IS true that the most of the 24% with a high school educations or less DID vote for Obama.

* Exit polls are systemically challenged. Among other issues:

– self reporting – all you get is what people want to tell you with no way to objectively back it up. If I tell you I’m a rocket scientist and voted for Obama, that’s what the poll shows, even if I’m a ditch digger who voted Larouche. Don’t know about you, but if some earnest youngster with a clipboard asked me a bunch of questions about how I voted as I walked to my car, Porky Pig and an advanced degree in bovine scatology management would figure prominently in the answers;

– unclear questions, with no time to clarify them: is a certificate from a barber college a college degree? Does an online class in how to draw scantily clad Elvin princesses count as ‘some college’?

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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