We Don’t Need No Thought Control

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

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.