Leadership & Governance

Education Level Linked to Party Affiliation, Poll Suggests

September 24, 2008

Once upon a time, political scientists could look at a voter’s income and history of church attendance and predict how he or she would vote in a presidential election. Working-class voters, the conventional wisdom went (and polls confirmed) tended to vote Democratic, while churchgoers trended Republican.

No longer. In the 2008 presidential election, the biggest predictor of party affiliation may be education, argues Alan Wolfe in an opinion piece in The New Republic.

As evidence, Mr. Wolfe points to a new poll by Washington Post/ABC News that found that white people without a college degree favor John McCain, the Republican candidate, by 17 percentage points, while those with a college degree prefer Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, by 9 percentage points.

That split could have broad implications for higher-education policy, Mr. Wolfe argues. “A divide such as this suggests that Democrats will continue to expand access to higher education while Republicans will oppose it,” he said.

At the same time, a McCain win could mean renewed scrutiny of colleges’ finances, he argues: “Expect, if the Republicans win, greater efforts by people such as (Sen.) Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, to regulate the endowments of the most selective colleges and universities.”