According to a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center, Americans don’t care much if their presidential candidates went to prestigious colleges or graduate schools:
A large majority — 74% — of Americans say it wouldn’t matter to them one way or another if a presidential candidate went to “a prestigious university such as Harvard or Yale.” About a quarter say it would matter: 19% say they’d be more likely to support such a candidate while 6% would be less likely. Those views have changed very little since 2007.
Yeah, you know what else hasn’t changed in years? Having an option in these matters.
It’s totally academic. The last time we got to choose between a candidate who went to a prestigious school and one who didn’t was what, 1996?
But even that doesn’t really count. It’s true that Bill Clinton’s Georgetown was much fancier than Bob Dole’s University of Kansas, but Clinton had actually been president of the United States for several years by then. He wasn’t running on his “background.” No one much cared where he went to college.
This also leaves out 1980 (Jimmy Carter’s Annapolis to Ronald Reagan’s forgettable Eureka College), because Carter too was an incumbent.
If we exclude for incumbency, we have to go back really far. 1960 is out. John F. Kennedy went to Harvard and Richard Nixon attended the much less prestigious Whittier College, but Nixon also went to Duke Law School.
In fact, the last time two non-incumbents of significantly different academic backgrounds faced each other was in 1928, when Herbert Hoover, who graduated from Stanford, defeated Al Smith, who was a high school dropout.