Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Iowa Democratic Caucus, Education, and Poll Reporting

This morning's Washington Post has a routine article about the paper's latest political poll in Iowa. The main thrust of the story is equally routine: Obama has a small lead, but everything will come down to turnout. As an Iowa caucusgoer myself, I scraped up enough motivation to click to the second page of the story and found this paragraph:

Considering other turnout factors brings no additional clarity. Age and education are two key predictors of caucus participation, with older and more highly educated people disproportionately showing up to vote. While Clinton outpaces Obama among older voters, particularly those aged 65 and up, Obama outperforms her nearly 3 to 1 among those with an education of a college degree or more.

THREE TO ONE? Obama is outpolling Clinton three to one among college grads? I am gobsmacked: I've read a lot of coverage of this race, and I would guess that I've seen a hundred times as much coverage of race and gender as education level. Yet there it is: alongside relatively tiny differences in other areas, an enormous gap based on one variable that almost nobody is talking about. Note that the gap isn't even the main topic of the Post's own paragraph: the gap is presented as a turnout factor, not as the crucial difference between the Iowans who prefer Obama and those who prefer Clinton.

In this race, the education level of voters also seems to work against some of the race's main narratives; for example, given the Clintons' alleged association with cultural elites, would we have heard more about this story if the numbers were reversed? Do we even know how to talk about Hillary Clinton as someone who connects with common people but flops among college graduates? I'm not sure we do.

But I also wonder whether this case illustrates a blind spot in political journalism more generally. I imagine so, at least to some extent. It might be easier, and it seems to me more conventional, to talk about political preference in terms of race, gender, and age than education. If I'm right that there is such a blind spot, does it relate to ways in which we do and don't discuss social inequality in America?

1 comment:

Michael said...

Consider me similarly gobbed.

In post-Iowa, pre-Super-Tuesday 2004, Kerry had the same advantage over Edwards among less-educated voters. Odd if you look at the policies or the personalities, but explicable if you assume (jackassily) that less-educated voters are poorly informed.

I suspect that the cultural divide between the more- and less-educated will widen in proportion with the importance of education and the cost of a four-year degree. This is something people like me should be learning to pay more attention to.