Young voters, education, and tuning out the GOP

There is an article up at the pro-conservative FrumForum which talks about how the GOP did extremely well during last week’s elections among general voters, but when it comes to well-educated young people, they failed horribly.

The blue line is the trend for Tompkins county (see link for chart; Cornell University is in Tompkins County). Again, a negative score implies that Republicans do better than they do nationally, a positive score that the Democrats to better. In 1960 – admittedly an odd year – Nixon beat Kennedy by 33 points in what was nationally a tied election. In 2008 Obama beat McCain by 42 points, 35 points more than the national average. The trend is not quite linear – apart from the 1960 election, there is a relatively flat trend between 1964 and 1980 – on average, Republicans do a little bit better than Democrats relatively. Then there is a new level between 1984 and 2000, where Democrats are up by 20 points compared to the national average. Finally, there is a jump in the last two elections, with Democrats up around 35 points. This implies a swing of 40 points from the 1970s – and a whopping 68 points from 1960.

And even this second chart (see link) understates the Republican problem with top students.

It isn’t any surprise that the GOP does poorly with young students. There’s a social and economic disconnect. Students tend to be more socially tolerant of others than the GOP in general. The GOP’s base is made in large part of an older generation that didn’t need higher education at the rate required today, so there is an education gap there that negatively impacts things such as women’s rights and civil rights for gays. This older generation then further negatively impacts the things that matter to young voters by voting in favor of social programs which are in need of fiscal retooling; a lack of retooling is fine for now, but will become an issue later – when these older voters are mostly dead. (The U.S. really needs a version of the Australian law which says everyone must vote or face a fine.)

But it isn’t just that the GOP absolutely does not serve the financial interests of young people (or most people who aren’t wildly wealthy, but I digress). It’s also that well-educated young people care about, well, education. In this area, the GOP unarguably fails. A second FrumForum article gets to the heart of the matter.

Let me advance another hypothesis. Today’s top students are motivated less by enthusiasm for Democrats and much more by revulsion from Republicans. It’s not the students who have changed so much. It’s the Republicans.

Under Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, Republicans championed science and knowledge. But over the past 30 years, national Republicans have formed an intensifying alliance with religious conservatives more skeptical of science and knowledge. I don’t know whether discarding evolution goes against common sense; but I’m pretty sure it goes against most Ivy League-educated senses.

To advance this alliance, national Republicans have derided elite universities as dangerous and hostile places.

This anti-intelligence movement among Republicans is long-standing. I think part of it stems from the emphasis the party placed on social values in recent years, especially throughout the 90’s. A lot of the concern there was fair, even if wrong-headed. But there was a hidden correlation among those with more socially liberal (i.e., fair and equal) values; some of what brings one to certain social values also brings one to more liberal economic policies. Given the unfortunate nature of politics, we often find ourselves arguing the polemic even though we may have plenty of common ground. This can lead to an us-vs-them mentality which in turn polarizes the political atmosphere. Now we have Republicans, resting on the shoulders of those who came to power over socially conservative values, who are also forced into other positions, including economic hostility towards science and education. And of course, there is the real hostility that exists among religious conservative who rightly recognize the threat science and education pose to their pre-conceived notions; it isn’t just politics now – much of the power of the GOP is locked up in the hands of those who really are anti-science and anti-education. (To be fair, I’ll grant that they are only generally anti-education in practice; idealistically I think most everyone is pro-education.)

And even though they didn’t win in every instance, now we have those annoying Teabaggers promoting anti-intelligence views.

via Why Evolution Is True