Political Animal


March 16, 2012 10:54 AM We Don’t Need No Thought Control

By Ed Kilgore

So it seems Rick Santorum knew his electoral base better than we realized when he blasted President Obama for encouraging people to go to college. Check out this fascinating set of findings from YouGov’s Ryan D. Enos:

Last week, in a YouGov/Polimetrix survey, I asked a representative sample of Americans about the value of a college education and what they think college does for those that attend….
Respondents were asked to think about the importance of college to financial success. While similar numbers of liberals and conservatives indicated that college is “somewhat important”, liberals were 20 percentage points more likely than conservatives to say that college is “very important”. In fact, only a little more than one quarter of self-identified conservatives and a similar proportion of self-identified Republicans agree that college is “very important” to financial success.
Similarly, while a majority of both liberals and conservatives believe that after four years of college a person is usually at least “somewhat more educated”, liberals are more than twice as likely as conservatives to say that a person will be “much more educated” after college (39% to 17%).
What underlies these differences in beliefs about the value of higher education? It could very well be a matter of political ideology: I also asked what usually happens to a person’s political ideology after four years of college — only 4% of liberals thought that a person becomes “much more liberal”, while 34% of conservatives think college has this liberalizing effect.
Who do conservatives think is responsible for this liberal indoctrination and lack of effective education? I don’t know for sure, but the ideological divide in opinions about college professor is suggestive. When asked how favorable they find professors, 69% of liberals said “somewhat” or “very favorable”, while only 21% of conservatives had favorable opinions about people in my profession.

No wonder Newt Gingrich’s campaign is running on fumes. But it gets even more interesting:

The importance of ideology to the value that the typical American attaches to higher education is tremendous. When I construct a statistical model that accounts for a person’s income, gender, education, race, where they live, and whether or not they are the parent of a minor child — conservatism is the single most powerful predictor of whether a person thinks a college education is important to financial success, the effect a person thinks college has on political ideology, and their opinion of college professors. In fact, political ideology is more strongly associated with a person’s views on college professors than it is [with] their views on President Obama!

This is pretty remarkable, even if you discount a lot of this sentiment as a response to polling cues about ideology and education.

William F. Buckley once supposedly remarked that he’d rather be governed by the first 2000 people listed in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. Looks like his ideological successors would rather be educated by random people, too—or not educated at all.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • dalloway on March 16, 2012 11:03 AM:

    Erm....maybe the folks who hold such a low opinion of a college education had trouble completing one?

  • Mark-NC on March 16, 2012 11:04 AM:

    I'm not sure why this surprises anyone. This is the group of people that elected G. W. Bush twice. They knew he was a dunce and didn't care. This is the group that STILL thinks that a half-wit acid-spitting, half-term former Governor from Alaska would make a great President.

    In their world (so I hear), Jesus will make them successful. They have to know how to pray - not much else.

  • Peter C on March 16, 2012 11:13 AM:

    It is as if they've reduced the American Dream to winning the lottery. They've ceded 'hope' to us; fine with me.

  • ericfree on March 16, 2012 11:19 AM:

    "educated by random people..." Isn't that more or less what home-schooling is?

  • Danp on March 16, 2012 11:20 AM:

    Everybody knows the best way to get rich in America is to play bass for a rock band.

  • stormskies on March 16, 2012 11:23 AM:

    So, of course, the dumb shit conservatives end up with the signs that says 'keep gubermint away from my medicare' ... of course ...... and then call other people stupid who don't agree with their own stupidity ..... oh my

  • exlibra on March 16, 2012 11:37 AM:

    [...] only a little more than one quarter of self-identified conservatives and a similar proportion of self-identified Republicans agree that college is “very important” to financial success. -- Ryan D. Enos, as quoted by Ed Kilgore

    I don't know how close the correlation is between college and financial success (have seen too many English majors waiting tables for a living) but money isn't everything. Many skills acquired in college "translate", positively, into life in general. Simple things, like organising one's thoughts logically are often acquired in college (unless one has had exceptional teachers though primary and high school). So I have to agree with dalloway, @11:03AM; it's a case of sour grapes, most likely (vide Sarah Palin's long and torturous road through many colleges, to emerge unscathed and uneducated)


  • Peter C on March 16, 2012 11:44 AM:

    The Republicans are the party of the militantly ignorant. They would make the whole country just like them.

    You don't need a lid on the pot you use to cook crabs; if one crab climbs near the top, the other crabs in the pot pull it back down. Meet the Republican ideal.

  • james on March 16, 2012 12:07 PM:

    Did the survey ask any questions attempting to co-relate fraternity and sorority participation, grade point average, and devotion to the football team to liberal / conservative identification?

    Or, how about, a question along these lines: During college, who had the most influential on your thinking? Professors, advisors, peers, or the frat brothers you got drunk with every weekend?

  • Rick Massimo on March 16, 2012 12:19 PM:

    "William F. Buckley once supposedly remarked that he’d rather be governed by the first 2000 people listed in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard."

    I can't remember who it was about a year ago who said "Yeah, but he never meant those were the ONLY choices."

  • SecularAnimist on March 16, 2012 12:25 PM:

    So-called "conservatism" in America today is not a culture, and these views do not spontaneously arise from the grassroots.

    So-called "conservatism" in America today is a corporate-created cult, and these views are the result of deliberate, calculated, systematic, relentless propaganda and brainwashing.

  • SecularAnimist on March 16, 2012 12:28 PM:

    Danp wrote: "Everybody knows the best way to get rich in America is to play bass for a rock band"

    From first-hand experience, I can tell you that it really is the best way. Even if you don't get rich.

  • Snarki, child of Loki on March 16, 2012 12:34 PM:

    "William F. Buckley once supposedly remarked that he’d rather be governed by the first 2000 people listed in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard."

    Yeah, but that's Boston.

    If the GOP wins in November, we'd be governed by the first 2000 names in the Dumphuk Alabama phone book.

  • Qalice on March 16, 2012 12:45 PM:

    I've been fascinated for a while by the fact that, when it started becoming clear that educated people are less likely to vote Republican, the Republican Party decided that that's a problem with education. It just seems like a deadly logical fallacy to me, in the long term. But I guess that's because my Republican parents insisted that I get a college education!

  • Shelly on March 16, 2012 1:08 PM:

    I must be in a bad mood today. Or maybe I've just hit my limit. Stop busting on home schoolers. Not everybody who home schools their kids is a conservative right-wing religious nut job. I home schooled my daughter. She starts college in the fall. Her high school environment was toxic to learning...which had a lot to do with the religiosity of the conservative faculty and staff.

  • bubba on March 16, 2012 1:14 PM:

    "the importance of college to financial success."

    C'mon people. There is are very legitimate reasons conservatives do not think a college education is necessary for financial success.

    First, we all know family connections are the most important link to financial success, at least for conservatives.

    Second, being born into a wealthy family is the second most important link to financial success, at least for conservatives.

    Third, insider info or tips or trading is the next most important link. At least for conservatives.

    Fourth, if you have none of the above, the next is to cheat and swindle your customers and neighbors.

    It's no wonder that college is far down there list with so many other less difficult options available to them

  • boatboy_srq on March 16, 2012 1:30 PM:


    I, too, have met my share of brilliant products of home schooling. Then again, their parents were smart and made the choice because they could teach their kids better and faster than the institutions near them.

    But I've also met my share of the products of more stereotypical home-schooling, who got their cosmology from Genesis, their political science from Kings, and their math from Numbers.

  • cthulhu on March 16, 2012 1:44 PM:

    I think this also plays into a lot of conservative thinking: the belief in inherent nature. It's driven race and gender politics for conservatives forever but it also comes out in their beliefs about financial success. The great ones are born not made. The vast majority of people who are poor, by definition, simply don't have "it" so there's little point in trying to support their educational and employment aspirations - the few that do claw their way up find a way because that's who they are on the inside. They often talk about wanting an America where anybody can make it to the top but what they really mean is that the "right people" can always be successful in this world (if the government and everyone else gets out of their way).

    In a sense, this is very Calvinistic. You're either great or you're not; college can't make you great but it possibly can hinder your predestination if you learn "the wrong things."

  • bdop4 on March 16, 2012 2:53 PM:

    Interesting that the poll frames "success" in strictly financial terms, since that appears to be the only metric used by conservatives in assessing the value of a college education.

  • Charles Lemos on March 16, 2012 3:36 PM:

    Well that explains willful ignorance.

    I've never been so depressed after reading an article here at the Washington Monthly. That such a large swath of Americans view education with such disdain if not antipathy is saddening.

  • Kuji on March 16, 2012 4:17 PM:

    That's fine with me. Less competition in the 100k+ career opportunities.

  • Michael Robinson on March 16, 2012 6:01 PM:

    Seriously, who's ever heard of a "Conservative Arts" degree?

  • Al B Tross on March 16, 2012 6:15 PM:

    This piece of research, dealing with Authoritarian personality types, has much more substantial, empirical data that explains why "conservative" (read "Authoritarians") or an amazingly contradictory group.

    Realize that most sef-identified consevatives score very high on both the Social Dominating Auathoritarian scale, as well as the Right-wing Authoritarian scale.