This week I have offered a series of posts reflecting on Gallup’s stunning recent survey on approval ratings for the Obama presidency. The results are chock-full of bad news for Democrats, but not all of it is bad or unflattering. Democrats might be encouraged that young folks support Obama at a higher rate than older folks — a result I discussed here — and that the more educated a person is, the more likely he or she is to approve of Obama’s performance.
Those with only a high school degree, or less, approve of Obama at a rate of 42%. 45% of those with some college experience approve, and 46% of those who finished a college degree. Of those who have earned a post-graduate degree, however, 53% approve of Obama. 53% is not a huge number, but there is a clear slope here, and it does require explanation. What are we to make of this? Does it mean that those who are most educated individuals in American society better understand Obama and appreciate his accomplishments? Or does it reflect more on the ideology prevalent on American campuses?
There are several reasons to prefer the latter interpretation.
(1) Level of education does not, as we all know, perfectly correlate with level of intelligence. Advanced degree programs also tend to reward certain kinds of intelligence instead of others. What is interesting is that while Obama approval goes up for the more educated, it goes down for the more wealthy. Now, those with degrees in law and business and medicine tend to be more wealthy, while those with advanced degrees in education, the humanities and even many of the social sciences tend to make less. This would suggest that those with professional degrees, especially the most lucrative ones, have a lower approval rating for Obama than those with degrees in education and the humanities. This raises the question: how many advanced degrees are awarded each year, and how many are in fields, such as education, law, humanities and the social sciences, strongly associated with liberal ideology on American campuses?
(2) Post-graduate degrees include master’s degrees (including business degrees) and doctoral degrees, and what are called first-profession degrees such as law, medicine, pharmacy, and ministerial degrees. In 2007-2008, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 625,000 master’s degrees and 63,700 doctoral degrees were awarded, and 91,300 first-profession degrees.
The most significant category by far, then, are master’s degrees. And in master’s degrees, the largest percentage are education degrees — the kind of degrees that many teachers acquire before going into teaching, or in order to bolster their training and credentials mid-career. Of the 625,000 master’s degrees awarded in 2007-08, 175,000 were in education. I don’t have any statistics on hand for this, but Schools of Education are notoriously liberal. Moreover, of the 175,000 master’s degrees awarded in education that year, 77% went to women, who typically support Democratic candidates by rates around 55%. This has to be balanced against roughly 156,000 master’s degrees awarded in business, where there is less of a preference for liberalism, or (some argue) even a preference for conservatism, but then again the next largest category are master’s degrees in health services (master’s in nursing, etc.), of which 81% go to women, and 33,000 receive degrees in public administration and social services, 75% women. Overall, 60.6% of all master’s degrees go to women.
Amongst doctoral degrees it is difficult to discern much of a politically significant pattern, but amongst first-profession degrees the largest number by far (47%) are in the field of law. Law schools too are famously liberal. In a survey of 2008 campaign contributions of 635 law professors, for instance, 95% of the money went to Obama and only 5% to McCain. At many top law schools such as Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Chicago, and Penn, 100% of the contributions went to Obama and other Democratic candidates. This was not a rigorous study, but given the 90-point difference in this case it’s hard to believe that the political affiliations of law professors would be anything but overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal.
(3) Apart from the political predilections of particular fields, the education industry in general has given overwhelmingly to Democrats; in 2008 and 2010, money from the education industry went to Democrats over Republicans by about 5-to-1. Employees of educational institutions, in fact, now consistently rank amongst the top supporters for Democrats and particularly Democratic presidential candidates, donating enormous sums of money to defeat Bush in 2004 and to install a Democrat (and their clear preference was for Obama) in 2008. Even in these 2010 midterms, significant and wildly disproportionate amounts of money are going toward Democrats. According to campaignmoney.com, when all political contributions from professors are added together from 1999 to the present, roughly 75% went to Democrats and only 10% to Republicans. However these numbers fit together, the trend is abundantly clear.
It strains credulity to the limit to believe that students who spend some of their most intellectually formative years under the tutelage of an overwhelmingly liberal body of authority figures would not find their political views pushed toward the Left.
4. It’s also worth mentioning that there are many more advanced degrees awarded today than there were, say, 10, 20, or 40 years ago, meaning that the number of those with post-graduate degrees will cluster toward the younger side of the age spectrum. As already explained, the young tend to be more liberal and more likely to support Democrats.
IN CONCLUSION, the 53% approval rating amongst those with post-graduate degrees speaks less to intelligence or education per se, in my view, than to (1) the demographics of that group, which trend toward two groups already likely to trend liberal: young people and women, and (2) the years of exposure to authority figures who are overwhelmingly liberal in their politics.
So much for the Gallup poll and what it tells us about those who approve and those who disapprove of the performance of the Obama administration! Tomorrow we turn to a new subject – the suicide of Tyler Clementi.