Are democrats more educated?

Balloon Juice links to a Brookings study that measures educational attainment by metropolitan area and notes that 24 out of 25 areas are in states that went for Obama in 2008.

This made me immediately wonder which the outlier was. A quick scan said that the post is incorrect and that there are two outliers according to that metric. The first is Austin-Round Rock at #14 and the second is Tucson, AZ at #25. Doug was probably referring to Austin. But why talk about states, when we have the county breakdown? The county Austin resides in (Travis, TX) actually went for Obama by almost 2 to 1 (64-35%)—seems a shame to pick on Austin simply because it happens to be in a red state.

PResidental breakdown of Travis County

In fact, let’s look at the data, shall we?

Rank Metropolitan % graduate degree Major county % Obama 2008
1 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 21.9% D.C. 93%
2 Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk,CT 19.3% Fairfield, CT 59%
3 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 19.2% Santa Clara, CA 70%
4 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 18.6% Suffolk, MA 78%
5 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 17.1% San Francisco, CA 84%
6 Madison, WI 16.2% Dane, WI 73%
7 Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 15.4% Albany, NY. 63%
8 Baltimore-Townson, MD 14.6% Baltimore, MD 87%
9 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 14.5% Manhattan, NY 85%
10 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 14.4% Hartford, CT 65%
11 New Haven-Milford, CT 14.4% New Haven, CT 61%
12 Washington-Arlington-Raleigh-Cary, NC 14.1% Wake, NC 93%
13 Colorado Springs, CO 13.9% El Paso, CO 40%
14 Austin-Round Rock, TX 13.7% Travis, TX 64%
15 Rochester, NY 13.5% Monroe, NY 58%
16 Albuquerque, NM 13.1% Bernanillo, NM 60%
17 Denver-Aurora, CO 13.0% Denver, CO 75%
18 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 12.9% San Diego, CA 54%
19 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 12.7% King, WA 70%
20 Worchester, MA 12.7% Worchester, MA 56%
21 Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 12.6% Philadelphia, PA 83%
28 Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI 12.5% Cook, IL 76%
23 Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, NY 12.4% Dutchess, NY 53%
24 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 12.1% Hennepin, MN 64%
25 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 11.9% Fulton, GA 67%
26 Buffalo-Niagra Falls, NY 11.9% Erie, NY 58%
27 Syracuse, NY 11.9% Onandaga, NY 59%
28 Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, ME 11.8% Cumberland, NY 64%
29 Portland-Vancouver-Beverton, OR-WA 11.7% Multnomah, OR 77%
30 Tucson, AZ 11.7% Pima, AZ 53%

To generate this data, I looked at the top 30, found the county at the heart of the metropolitan (the most populous county if there was more than one), and looked at that county’s 2008 presidential vote share. Having done this, we see the real outlier is actually Colorado Springs, CO—the only one on the list to actually go for McCain. (There is some irony here as western conservatism is centered around “small government” and you can’t find a metropolitan more on the federal dole than Colorado Springs—the military and defense-related businesses being the largest employers in the city.)

You probably noticed something in the screenshot I took of Texas’s electoral votes. The few blues in a sea of reds were all centered around metropolitans. That’s the problem with DougJ’s observation: the red-blue divide is not a red-blue state divide, but really an urban-rural divide. Cities in the U.S. have been growing while rural areas have been shrinking—so-called “real America” is now only 21% of the U.S. population. What swung things for the Republicans in recent years has been the suburbs and exurbs voting for them—the so-called “Reagan Democrats.”

To take data restricted to metropolitan areas and make any inference of the education level and voting habits, let’s compare the above to the least educated list.

Rank Metropolitan % graduate degree Major county % Obama 2008
100 Bakersfield, CA 4.4% Kern, CA 40%
99 Stockton, CA 4.5% San Joaquin, CA 54%
98 McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 4.7% Hidalgo, TX 59%
97 Modesto, CA 5.0% Stanislaus, CA 49%
96 Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 5.9% Polk, FL 46%
95 Fresno, CA 6.0% Fresno, CA 49%
94 Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 6.2% Westmoreland, PA 41%
93 Riverside-San Bernadino-Ontario, CA 6.2% Riverside, CA 51%
92 El Paso, TX 6.6% El Paso, TX 66%
91 Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 6.9% Clark, NV 58%
90 Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, PA 7.4% Lackawanna, PA 62%

There is definitely a larger percentage voting for McCain near the bottom. But there is an interesting factor about this list. In the top half of the list, I only had to look up one metropolitan because no city was labeled on the electoral map (Poughkeepsie), but in this bottom half, I had to look up: Bakersfield, Stockton, McAllen, Modesto, Lakeland, Youngstown, Riverside, and Scranton. It stands to reason that the reason these metropolitans went to McCain (and the reason they tend to be less educated) is because they have a large rural component.

No matter what, it’s clear from just a glance that the metropolitan areas that top this list are riding the economic storm better than the bottom or middle. It’s also clear that the last decade has created a resurgence of political interest among people who are highly educated (I among them). This is probably related to the rise of the creative class. Given this demographic factor coupled with the mean streak of bigotry going among the most active elements of the Republican Party at a time when that demographic is shrinking, things do not bode well politically for the Republican Party in the long future.

So, to answer the question I posed in the top of the article: Are Democrats more educated? No, the data doesn’t show this. But among the highest educated they seem to dominate, and we know the influence and power of that demographic is growing. If you’re dealt an electoral hand, no doubt one would prefer the Democratic one to the Republican one.

So what of the conventional wisdom that Republicans are more educated than Democrats or the Tea Partiers are wealthier and more educated. This is total hogwash and a manipulation of statistics. In the former case, we know that the Democratic party draws a large amount of support from the very poor and uneducated. These people don’t vote, and neither did the well educated ones. Where you get “more educated” is to look along the educational level, since the vote is usually split close to evenly among Republicans and Democrats, until you find the lowest bar that excludes the poor vote, but includes the entirety of your set: in this case—“some college” or “college”—over half Americans have “some college” education, and over a quarter get a degree.

As for the Tea Party poll. Since the same poll quoted found that almost all of them are white, male, married republicans older than 45, it stands to reason, not to compare them with the entire census data of the United States, but with the cohort of the United States that is actually politically active, or the cohort of white, male, married republicans older than 45. The quotes that they are “wealthier and more educated” compare them with the entire public. That’s how statistics gets misused. It’s so glaringly obvious that a Tea Partier is a low information person relative to those cohorts that misused statistics becomes a refuge of the people who are clearly wrong. Sure you can believe in the manipulation. As for me, I’ll just point out this video. The guy at the other end of the Tea Partier’s ire? he’s a nuclear engineer with two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D..

Another fun observation is that I was born in Pittsburgh (#37 on the list), went to college in Los Angeles (#44), moved to San Diego (#18), went to graduate school in Champaign-Urbana (not a large enough metropolitan to be counted, but it’d be pretty damn high), and now work and live in San Jose and San Francisco (#5 and #3).

I guess this means I should expect to retire in Washington, DC or Bridgeport, CT. 😀


I just wanted to link this post by a new front pager at Balloon Juice because it mentions the outlier in the top 25 I noticed, Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs, obviously, was at the forefront of the tax-cutting brigade and what happens is no surprise. What is a surprise, however, is just how weak the front-pager’s argument is.

My brother recently asked me what I thought about David Brooks. I was not kind. My brother mentioned that he was glad the New York Times kept him on because the right is now so disconnected from the mainstream, David Brooks was the only filter by which he had access to the conservative mindset. I think the only depressing thing is if E.D. Kaine and David Brooks are what passes for a “reasonable conservative” nowadays, then there is little hope because neither are ignorant and both are intellectually dishonest to the extreme (and well aware of it).

3 thoughts on “Are democrats more educated?

  1. Terry, interesting find!

    I tend to think you lean on the right when it comes to issues of the economy, and on the left when it comes to social issues… which, more or less places you in the rank of Libertarians. First of all, please correct me if I am mistaken.

    As for your observations… what I find myself thinking about lately is whether the undergraduate/graduate institutions in question produce the sort of people who tend to lean on the left, both socially and economically. That is, I wonder whether institutions like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. are basically left-wing brewing grounds. And the answer is overwhelmingly: YES! An interesting read about this:…. I can provide countless others.

    The correlation between left-leaning voters, and graduates of such institution would make sense to me.
    My recent post A review of “Commanding Heights- The Battle for the World Economy”

    1. On a single political spectrum I’m so conservative I’m almost a democrat 🙂 I suppose it might seem that I’m a libertarian because I’m “socially liberal, economically conservative” according to the tag line those people like to adopt. In economic issues, I’m actually far to the left of Libertarians simply because Libertarians are morons economically who need to study a basic course in micro and public finance before they open their mouths. In social issues, I’m usually against social justice implemented politically because those things have a tendency to backfire when implemented too quickly. I'm also both "pro-Life" and "pro-Choice" the two sides of that debate are not in opposition. 🙂

      The danger in the issue you bring up (Higher education = leftist thinking) is that it implies there is some political agenda there where there is none. Education, especially higher education, has a fundamentally anti-conservative agenda (nature of learning), but that doesn’t imply that it is leftist. For instance, the same agenda in a left-leaning state will imply that having to read "Wealth of Nations" might be a “right-leaning” brewing ground n’est pas?

      What is going on is currently the national political discourse is currently dominated by the right wing and that idea is being challenged by the current generation. Baby boomers in the 60’s similarly challenged and villified their conservative parents (now that generation ironically immortalizes their parents as the “Greatest Generation”). When I went to school, political discourse was left-leaning and that generation challenged it by being right-leaning—almost all my politically active friends were Young Republicans.

      Given that people with a post-graduate degree are inordinately occupied by Gen X’ers like me instead of Gen Yers like you, I’d have to say that while matriculating through higher education is certainly going to give someone a progressive, liberal bent, the degree which is happening is probably unusual historically.

      In my case (anecdotally), I went to a science school and by and large most scientists are authoritarians—this explains why nearly all great the non-Jewish German physicists were Nazi’s during WW2 and why most of my friends were Republicans if they gave half a crack. In my case, what probably turned most of them was probably the anti-science anti-education 50+1 strategy of the party in recent years: “intelligent design”, Terry Schaivo, and stem cell research. Terry Schaivo, for instance, flipped John Cole at Balloon Juice (a republican professor in English at WVU). Personally, what flipped me was George Bush’s Axis of Evil speech. I actually drove off the road when I heard it. (Before that, most of my friends would have labeled me a conservative politically, socially, and economically.)

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