Education Gap = Class Gap?

by: Chris Bowers

Fri Nov 23, 2007 at 16:10


At some point after the 2004 election, popular political demography took education level, rather than income level, as the primary determining factor in class. It is because of this definition that commenters, including Ruy Teixeira of The Emerging Democratic Majority fame, to claim that Bush has won the white working class by 23 points, despite being soundly defeated, 55%-44%, among voters making less than $50,000 a year. The major problem I have with this definition is that among the public at large, which mainly defines class by income level, statements that Bush won the white working class vote by wide margins conjures up images of Bush winning the majority of the vote among low-income white Americans. Clearly, as the exit poll data on income shows, the simply is not the case.

However, defining class by the type of job one posses, rather than by the amount of income one receives from that job, is actually more in line with traditional leftist and academic theory on the subject. The proletariat are not the proletariat because they are poor, but rather because they primarily earn money through wage-labor rather than through capital ownership. Certainly there is a tendency for the proletariat to be poor, or at least poorer than the bourgeois, but the primary difference between the classes is an issue of ownership, not an issue of income.  Similarly, as someone who basically accepts Richard Florida's definition of the Creative Class, I think a contemporary understanding of class divisions in the United States is incomplete without taking into account not only ownership, but also the type of jobs individuals perform. Leaving aside the specifics of who can be defined as a "knowledge worker" and who cannot, the differences that I believe are the most salient are the ones based upon education level and schedule flexibility. The reason for this is because differences in these areas will inevitably result not only in different income levels, but also in different lifestyle types. And once people start living different than each other, it isn't long before they start developing different values and voting tendencies as well.

I bring this up because it now appears that the largest gap within the Democratic electorate is based upon education level. Looking over the detailed crosstabs from recent New Hampshire polls, the only state where pollsters seem to be regularly providing detailed demographic crosstabs, one sees well known patterns such as Clinton's disproportionate advantage among women, and Obama's disproportionate strength among Demo-leaning indies. However, by far the largest gaps documented in both the last UNH (PDF, p 21) and WMUR (PDF p. 12) polls is between those Democrats with a high school education or less, and those with a post-graduate education. In both of these New Hampshire polls, Barack Obama comes in at a meager 4th place, trailing not only Hillary Clinton by massive 54%-9% and 47%-11% margins, but also coming in behind both John Edwards and Bill Richardson. By way of contrast, among those with post-graduate degrees, Obama leads Clinton 31%-29% in WMUR and trails by a narrow 27%-24% margin in UNH. This is an average swing of 40 points between the two groups, much larger than anything crosstab, although it should be noted that income demonstrates the second largest gap between the candidates.,

I have always struggled to define the progressive creative class vote from exit polls, but looking at education crosstabs within Democratic primaries might be the closest one can come with public polling information. While progressive creative class types skew non-Christian, skew high income, and self-identified liberal, the largest connection between them will be that they have at least four-year degrees. In fact, education might be one of the largest class divides in this country, surpassing even most differences in income levels. It difficult to expect more detailed, psychographic information simply from exit polls, but determining how different classes in America are voting would not only provide more information on American elections, but on America itself. 

Chris Bowers :: Education Gap = Class Gap?

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this is probably not new (0.00 / 0)
but there's a big school of education economics that looks at college and postgraduate degrees as essentially 'signaling mechanisms' or 'passports' into the nobility of the market-manor economy.

I think people today are judged not on past earnings, but rather on expected future earnings. So if postgraduate degree holders have much higher expected future earnings, they are in a higher social class. No question about it.


Read this (0.00 / 0)
A nice example of the type of analysis you are describing can be found in this article:
Class Matters | Are There Class Cultures?

The author is a community organizer.

Policies not Politics


[ Parent ]
clarification (0.00 / 0)
Don't worry, the Bush administration has taken care of high expectations for future earnings among degree-holders, at least where I live.

by far the largest gaps documented in both polls is between those Democrats with a high school education or less, and those with a post-graduate education. In both of these New Hampshire polls, Barack Obama comes in at a meager 4th place, trailing not only Hillary Clinton, but also coming in behind both John Edwards and Bill Richardson.

Just to clarify, do you mean that Obama is in 4th place among people with a high-school education or less?


Hillary not Obama (0.00 / 0)
No, Hillary appeals to the high school graduates and less. Obama, on the other hand, appeals to the creative class.

Banned for posting five straight diaries.

[ Parent ]
Provint once again that... (0.00 / 0)
...the 'creative class..' is a bunch of chumps. These are also the folks who see no need for unions. Right?

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

exactly... (0.00 / 0)
Pro-choice, pro-equal rights, anti-gun, secular, inclusive chumps.

Who'd want them in our coalition?


[ Parent ]
I recently moved (0.00 / 0)
to New Canaan, a suburb of New York, for a couple of years.

The under 45 set here is well educated, makes a fair amount of money, and leans Democratic.  If you look at the Gold Coast towns in CT, which should be overwhelmingly Repug, you find Kerry won one, and damn near won another:

Westport: 60%
Greenwich: 47%
Darien: 40%
New Canaan: about 40%

These are some of the richest towns in American. Kerry should have been getting killed in them.  Yet he won one, essentially tied another, and had a more than decent showing in the other 2.  And as I noted, the under 45 crowd New Canaan (which I am familiar with) probably voted for Kerry over Bush.

As you note, Education triumphs over Income.


Not A Class (0.00 / 0)
I just got to this blog post and Chris, its an interesting read. 

At its core I think its overstating the case to invent a certain set of people a new Class, in this case the Creative Class.  That's not to say that it isn't useful and interesting to look at that slice of people; they are very important in our society.  But the fact is that all of those people belong to one of several previously defined classes and they act accordingly.  In other words the Creatives are heterogeneous in how they act and what they most believe in.

The Creatives have also been around since at least the dawn of capitalism so they aren't a new phenomenon.  That they as a group tend to go in a certain direction politically (liberally but not radically leftist usually) is also not new.  In general they are members of the middle class (a very broad term) or if you tend to be a Marxist, the petit bourgeoisie.  The most successful of the Creatives do rise into the owning class Bill Gates, say, or Steve Jobs); most don't rise that far.  The Creatives tend to be the mind power behind most job creation which, tends to happen in small start-up companies which they own.

Obviously the Creatives are educated; almost all have undergrad degrees these days (which is different than it was say 75 years ago).  But its also true that there are many other people who have undergrad or even grad degrees that you wouldn't classify as Creatives so that just looking at education is misleading- just like income is. 

Ultimately Class distinctions are not based on what people receive (diplomas or money) but on what they do.  Thus you get owning, middle, working, and under classes.  Looking at Creatives is taking another angle for your viewpoint of humanity so it doesn't create something new.


this has been the most interesting polling (0.00 / 0)
this cycle. Has it always been there, and we just didn't notice it? Because, it has been very pronounced this cycle; the differences between education levels.

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