the most educated Americans are liberal but not egalitarian (2)

On Friday, I argued that the most educated Americans may be the most “liberal,” but liberalism is being defined by a whole set of opinions that cover cultural and international issues as well as economic policies. The most educated Americans are the people with the greatest economic advantages, and they are less economically egalitarian than other people, not more so.

This means that we do not have a “What’s the Matter with Kansas”-style situation, in which the least advantaged have forgotten their own interests, nor a situation in which tenured radicals are turning bourgeois students into socialists. Rather, we have a very standard situation in which the most advantaged people are the least enthusiastic about equality. They just qualify as “liberal” because of opinions on other matters.

Here is an additional graph using 2012 American National Election Study data. The question is “Do you agree strongly that society should make sure everyone has equal opportunity?” I show all the breakdowns for education, race, and ideology that have sufficient samples, in descending order of egalitarianism.
inequality3
The general pattern is that you’re less likely to support equal opportunity if you’re White, college-educated, or conservative. Individuals in all three categories are the least supportive of all. But note than less than half of liberals who are White and have college degrees strongly favor equality of opportunity.

I also looked at the pattern by age, prompted in part by the phenomenon of young White college students who feel the Bern. But it’s important not to confuse 2 million young Sanders voters with their whole generation. Below are the percentages of all Americans–and Americans who hold college degrees–who strongly favor equality of opportunity, by age. The sample sizes for each point are between 38 and 96 (i.e., smallish), so I wouldn’t pay attention to the specific zigs and zags. The overall pattern is that young adults are more enthusiastic about equality than those in their 20s and 30s, but college grads are less so than their contemporaries, and their elders (50+) are more concerned than they are.
inequality4

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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  • Martin Carcasson

    Peter,

    Are you familiar with Walter Benn Michael’s 2006 book The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality. I won’t say I agree with all his arguments, but certainly made me think and seems to fit with your data here.

    Martin Carcasson

    • PeterLevine

      I’m not familiar with that book, but it sure sounds like a similar position.

  • Mike Philson

    Really grateful for this. #TheGapYear appreciates honesty and authenticity in the higher education discourse. http://hiphopoverload.com/music/gap-year-soundtrack/

  • Mike Philson

    We produced a film and musical soundtrack to depict the experiences of minority students at elite Universities such as Harvard and USC, our respective home universities, called The Gap Year. The project explores the very points discussed in this article with humor and wit. #TheGapYear appreciates you. Thank you for addressing this very important issue. http://hiphopoverload.com/music/gap-year-soundtrack/

    • PeterLevine

      This is great, Mike. I listened this morning. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for this insight. Karl Polzer, Center on Capital & Social Equity – http://www.polzercapital.com