I thought it would be interesting to take Tuesday night’s election results, by state, and compare them to several indices of education attainment compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. We already know that Romney supporters tended to be older, wealthier, more male, and whiter than Obama supporters. What we had no idea about—until now—is that they were, across the board, less educated.
The Census Bureau annually ranks states according to education achievement, by measuring the proportion of residents that have graduated from high school, graduated from college, and earned graduate degrees. The three graphs below show those rankings. The states in blue went for Obama; the states in red for Romney. The median for the 51 states (for the purpose of this analysis, the District of Columbia is considered a state, not a colony) is 25.5 which, in order to avoid partitioning states for the convenience of this analysis, has been rounded down to 25. Thus, the top 25 states are above the median, while the bottom 26 sit below.
- High school graduates
Of the three indices, this is the least informative, because a high school diploma no longer carries with it the assumption of basic competence in anything except texting on cell phones. Compared to the other two, however, Romney voters fared best in this measure. In the states that went red on Tuesday, 38% sit above the median, 62% below. For Obama, 59% of the blue states sit above the median, 41% below. Thus, of the 25 states with the highest percentage of high school graduates, 16 went for the Democrats, 9 for the Republicans. For the GOP, it gets worse from here.
- College graduates
A college degree is still a fairly reliable indicator of achievement, although it, too, has been diluted over the past several generations. Seven of the 25 states above the median went for Romney, including none of the top 16. Pretty remarkable, if you ask me. 25% of the red states sit above the median, 75% below. 70% of the blue states sit above the median, 30% below. And of the bottom 15 states, 12 are red, only 3 blue. College graduates voted for Obama in a big way.
- Holders of graduate degrees
If there is any reliable indicator of educational achievement left, certainly graduate and professional degrees retain some meaning. The results in this index would be shocking, had we not just looked at the numbers for undergrads. Only 13% of the red states sit above the median, 87% below. And again, of the bottom 15, 13 favored Romney over Obama. 81% of the states above the median are blue, with 19% below. And of the 18 states with the highest percentage of graduate degrees, every one went for Obama. 18-0. If the President were an NFL team, we could finally stop watching those smug old broken-down Miami Dolphins guzzling champagne every few years.
Put differently, of the states with the highest percentage of high school graduates, 64% are blue, 36% red. For college graduates, the break is more dramatic—80% to 20%. And for those holding graduate and professional degrees, 87% of the states went for Obama, 13% for Romney. These numbers, crude though they may be, are statistically significant.
If one is willing to assume a correlation between educational attainment and income, the numbers are even more surprising. Wealthy voters could be presumed to be more highly educated, which would tend to increase Romney’s popularity among folks who have graduated from college at least once. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth.
I’m not anxious to try to interpret these figures. But some of my rightist friends are. Here’s a sample:
I need this kind of taunt like I need bunions, but am assuaged by considering the source.
Anyway, the list of challenges facing the Republican party going forward just got a little longer. They must find a way to appeal to a younger, browner, poorer and more female cohort. Add to that the need to appeal to more highly educated voters, historically more liberal than those with less formal education, and the goal becomes even more daunting. If they are to maintain their base during this process, it means becoming the party of choice for the young and the old; brown and white; male and female; rich and poor; dropouts and doctors.
Good luck with that.