Four years after the 2016 election, it hasn't changed that the majority of non-college-degree white people support Trump's re-election, while the majority of college-degree white people don't. Why does having a college degree make a difference among white Americans?

High school also teaches similar topics to colleges, such as science, social science etc. I think most people, with or without a college degree, choose a president in the same reasonably understandable way: what policies benefit their daily lives the most. How does a college degree separate white Americans in the sense of which policies benefit them and which don't?

  • Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to answer the question. Write a real answer instead which adheres to our quality standards.
    – CDJB
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 8:25
  • To comment. It is only recently that those with a college education began to lean Democrat. For most of when I grew up – millennial – those with a higher income and a college education tended to lean Republican. As some people addressed before – Donald Trump is not a typical Republican. I know many college educated high income Republicans who are voting for Biden. Source: "Educational divide in vote preferences on track to be wider than in recent elections" Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 3:12

12 Answers 12


The experience of getting a degree exposes you to a wider circle of people.

I'm white, male, and went to a school near where I grew up. The school and church had an intertwined population, and my social circle from the neighbourhood, school and church, all overlapped. There were a lot of people just like me, all white, all middle-lower class. Your friends-friends were just like you, while everybody didn't quite know everybody, the culture was pretty homogenous.

My concerns weren't "selfish", but everyone I cared for was so similar to me that my own needs matched what I knew the country wanted. My needs were reasonably met by the politicians of the time, the needs of everyone I cared about were also reasonably met by politicians, so a conservative political leaning was ready to go. Small incremental changes to the status quo seemed like the correct style of government.

However that all changed when I went to get a degree. People in my class weren't carbon copies of me anymore. The people I made friends with had first languages other than English, they were LGBT, they had different religious beliefs, they had different skin colours. By expanding my social circle to include a wider group and interacting with different people, I started to understand what it was like to be someone other than the carbon copies of me I'd grown up with. The people I met with were also having their social circles expanded at the same time, which went well beyond just fellow students, it became possible to see other social classes than white middle class suburbs because I got to know the friends my new friends had grown up with.

Now my experience was Australian not American, however there are many parallels here. First friend with an Aboriginal identity I got an understanding of police racism and had a face to put on that problem. First non-binary friend I got an understanding of trans rights and now had a reason to vote that way. First lesbian friend I now had a reason to vote for gay marriage. First heart to heart with a domestic violence victim raped by her partner who had to make a tough choice and suddenly my Pro-Life upbringing melts away. Seeing a friend struggling to live on $40 a week and I want to raise the welfare payment.

That experience changed my social circles into a social web, and the echo chamber of lower-middle class white clones of me became a melting pot of different experiences and different struggles. I always cared about the people around me - just the people I empathise with are more varied now, and struggling with things I wouldn't of otherwise been aware of. The awareness of those struggles motivates my left-wing leaning.

Had I never gone to college I'd probably be a lot more politically conservative.

  • 22
    This answer sounds plausible, but it would be much better if it presented sociological evidence rather than a single data point (anecdote).
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 17:12
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    This seems unfounded. IIRC, educated Democrats are less capable at estimating what percent of Republicans believe in X than visa versa. Even more surprisingly, educated democrats performed worse than uneducated ones. Furthermore, Democrats tend to live in places with less diversity in political opinion (although poll to be more open to differing political opinions than republicans) and are much more prone to block others on social media. theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/21/… provides some sources.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 19:24
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – CDJB
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 14:43
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    I think this argument is more about "growing up" than anything else and could apply to people that don't have degrees as well. For example, I have had similar experiences, but mostly through work. Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 5:01
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    This answer talks about liberals and conservatives in rather black and white terms and single dimension. Far from every conservative is against LGBT rights, racist, and is against abortion. In fact, every conservative in my rather conservative social circle supports the more liberal social attitudes. What they are against, however, are the socialist-like economic policies and heavy-handed government interference into private business. My point is, it's simpler to think in black and white bundles about these issues, but there are many more dimensions to them than simple liberal/conservative.
    – moonwalker
    Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 14:46

Existing answers pretty much cover the ground well, but I will answer a specific assertion in your question that is not actually correct either:

High school also teach similar topics as colleges, such as science, social science

That is not correct, either qualitatively or quantitatively.

One thing that most people discussing the topic usually fail to make clear (usually for lack of knowing this detail), that this education divide is not simply about "education". It is extremely strongly influenced by the kind of higher education you obtain, and who teaches you.

There are several things to unpack here:

  1. Difference in outcomes between American (probably Western in general) colleges

  2. Difference in subjects covered

  3. Difference in teaching styles

  4. Difference in ages of students

Let's cover them one by one.

  1. To be blunt about it, it's not "college" that makes one support left wing ideology, it's a Western (in this case usually American) college.

    The most drastic, clear proof of this is a natural experiment that happened in 1980-90s, when a large group of highly educated people immigrated into the USA - Russian Jewish community. I'll be self-plagiarizing details from my earlier Skeptics.SE answer:

    • 60% of the demographics holds 5+ years of higher education.

      This compares to 27% US population overall and to ~60% of all American Jews (src) (the latter serve as a good control group since 4th wave of USSR immigrants are similar in ethnic/religious composition - being overwhelmingly Jewish - AND similar education level).

    • Overall, the control group with very similar demographics is American Jews who tend to vote 70-90% Democrat in Presidential elections.

    • An overwhelming majority of educated immigrants from former Soviet Union are hard-anti-progressive (technically speaking, they usually vote "R", but if you go into nuance, most are libertarian-ish politically - most of them not so much as vote "for Republicans", as "against Democrats" - literally, if you ask, that is their line of thinking).

    There isn't too much polling on it as the demographics isn't prominent enough, but what there is, supports this. The poll #s below were sourced from "Russian-Jewish Immigrants in the U.S:Social Portrait, Challenges, and AJC Involvement" By Sam Kliger, Director, Russian Affairs, AJC. Specifically, "Voting patterns 2000–08" section of "Political Views" chapter.

    • 2004: 77% of Russian-speaking Jews in New York voted for the Republican incumbent GW Bush over his Democratic challenger John Kerry who got 9%

    • Similar pattern in 2008: McCain 65%, Obama 10%

    • In 2011, in special Congressional election to replace Anthony Wiener (NY Congressman who resigned prematurely due to a sex scandal), Russian Jews voted 90% for the Republican candidate (Note: "D" candidate was Jewish; "R" candidate was not, so this split was even more dramatic compared to baseline control group expectations and fundamentals).

    Additional citations can be found in "The New Jewish Diaspora: Russian-Speaking Immigrants in the United States ..." edited by Zvi Gitelman, Zvi Y. Gitelman; p. 116 (but I wasn't able to find citable text, just search inside Google books). Their main source for USA seems to be Kliger as well, though.

    I have not been able to find more recent polls/studies, but from anecdotal personal experience, most people in my demographics I know of are still just as much anti-DNC as they were 10 years ago, Obama did not help that in any way for reasons that are beyond the scope of this answer.

  1. Now, as to the subjects covered.

    Your question's statement "High school also teach similar topics as colleges, such as science, social science" is not actually accurate. College covers a lot of subjects NOT covered in high school.

    From more extreme/esoteric (gender studies, music theory, dance interpretation, psychology), to specifics of given large fields (yes, you study "social sciences" in school, but you do not study political science or sociology).

    Some of them may have less effect on political views (I'm pretty sure biochemistry may be on that end of the spectrum) and some (gender studies) may have more effect.

    Evidence for this was presented in Sam's excellent Politics.SE answer:

    This looks like a pretty decent study as far as studies found on the internet go. It measures liberalism vs conservatism as opposed to Democrat/Republican, but it's close to what you're looking for. (pdf)

    It suggests that Engineering and Business majors tend to hold more conservative views on both social and economic stances, and that Bio/Lab, social sciences, and fine arts majors have more liberal views.

  1. Moreover, there exists an important distinction is textbooks and curriculum and the teachers' freedom of what to teach.

    • As a general thing, teachers in school tend to be forced to teach to pretty rigorous set of standardized tests, teaching classes populated by kids who are not necessarily academically inclined. That means they spend 99% of their teaching time teaching the basics. In other words, even a teacher who may be inclined to teach "political views", consciously or unconsciously, would simply have trouble finding time to do so.

    • Secondly, a LOT of curriculum and textbooks are determined in a rather unified way (I won't go into details of how and why here, just accept that they are - from Common Core on curriculum side to state education boards on schoolbook side). College teachers have far, far more freedom to teach basically whatever they want as long as their college OKs it.

  1. Students' ages.

    A high school child will typically live with their parents, and absorb the parental ideology at a higher rate (I can hunt down references for that).

    Once a college kid goes off to college, they get to be separated from the parents, both literally and psychologically in terms of influence.

    Also, college age is typically when ideological "rebellion" starts - that is not exactly a new, or American phenomena - this was the case back in 1960, and it was the case back in Reformation era Germany, it was the case in anti-Mullah rebellions in Iran in 2000s and in anti-Communist sentiment in Eastern Europe in 20th century. Why that is, I don't have a good explanation I can cite, but it does seem to be the pattern.

    Basically, college kids tend to rebel against societal authority (not just parental one like school teenagers) - and that tends to lead one to be more "left leaning", to use a very crude and not always accurate label.

    Now, if you couple that with largely-left-leaning professors, and the two forces reinforce each other, the views falling onto receptive ears and brains.

  • 2
    Among software engineers, CS majors seem to be more liberal than the other majors. For example, other majors like to tell others don't read this and don't do that, while CS majors are more open minded. Some math people (teaching focusing) also act like dictators, and some math people (mostly research oriented) are openminded.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 12:57
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    @Tim - for reference, "teaching focusing" math majors are basically almost different sets of people and types and classes from "normal" math majors. As a former math major I had occasion to take classes and socialize with both and they did not exist in basically same space at all other than the word "math" in the department. And yes in modern US people into "education" type stuff tend to be more left leaning on average, probably for a variety of factors inclusing self-selection.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:12
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    Not wrong but misses a more basic point. People who went to HS and got a lot out of the experience academically go on to college. People who went to HS and didn't go to college often didn't go to college because the HS educational experience failed them. They did poorly in their classes and didn't get much out of those classes. They didn't connect with what they were taught. This helps to generate skepticism about what the entire institution is offering and about the establishment it represents.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 21:34
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    Another important point. Most people who go to college are upper middle class or at least middle middle class. Most people who don't go to college are working class/lower middle class. Working class/lower middle class people who go to college are intentionally seeking to improve their socio-economic class and are particularly open to adopting changes in their wold view, norms and attitudes to achieve this end and it is easy to do because the majority of their peers whose class status they seek to emulate are upper middle class. Class divides, unsurprisingly, come with political differences.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 23:18
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    I totally buy your first point, that more education doesn't necessarily make someone progressive/liberal/left-wing. I'm less convinced by your next point, that this is due to, as you describe it in a comment on another answer, "modern Western college's brainwashing experience". Don't you think it's much more likely that the experience of growing up in, and emigrating from, the collapsing USSR plays a bigger role than the (supposed) absence of left-wing propaganda in Soviet colleges?
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 16:20

Immigration is a major cause for the difference in voting.

The reason for this is that immigrants (in this case South/Central Americans) often have lower educational levels then in the USA. So a person who paves roads for a living has more chances of losing his job towards cheaper labor from immigrants then for example a doctor or a lawyer.

But besides the extra competition in the job market they are also getting more competition in the house market making it harder to find affordable homes for low/mid income families.

But besides immigration there is also the basic border control issue that the Republican party (for example Trump's new wall) holds high. This is because of the criminal elements (Cartel influence that is ramping up to be major problem south of the border) that can cross the border is more inclined to affect the low to mid income households then higher income households that have better paying jobs due to their education.

So an anti open border political stance would make a party more popular among people without higher education.

Edit: To make it clear, I am saying that a lot of low to mid income households hold these fears and are voting Republican because of them. If those fears are justified is an other discussion.

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    Thanks. It is a question of both education level and race. Much less African/Latino Americans have college degree, and would face more challenge from what you described, but their majority don't support Trump's reelection.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 14:24
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    @Tim that's because the Democratic party often advocates itself as being the party that is best for black people (if that is true is open for discussion) so they draw a lot of support form black voters who don't have time to look at what is best for them but vote Democratic as default because that is what they are " supposed" to do.
    – A.bakker
    Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 14:51
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    Your comment about "criminal elements" implies that people crossing the border are more likely to commit crimes (illegal immigration apart) than people born here. Do you have any evidence to support that? Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 16:45
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    I think you should clarify your answer on that point. At the moment it sounds like you are saying that illegal immigrants have a lot of criminals in their number. Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 17:19
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    @Ryan_L, What you say is technically true, but you are ignoring the fact that "criminal" has more than one meaning. If somebody says, "I am afraid of criminals," they probably aren't thinking of illegal aliens, or tax evaders, or embezzlers, etc. They probably are thinking of people who are inclined to commit violent crimes. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 0:21

There have been a lot of answers so far to this question, but most of them never refer to any evidence.

One very simple hypothesis is the following. By the time people get to be 18, their personalities are fully crystallized. The college system in the US then acts to filter these people into two different broad categories, based on the intellectual and behavioral characteristics they already possessed at age 18. College selects for kids who were already good at arguing and critical thinking, and willing to act according to the norms of the white-collar workplace (e.g., turning in paperwork on time). As evidence of this, there is a test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which is designed to measure critical thinking ability. Among college freshmen, about 32% of the variance in CLA scores is explained by their SAT scores, and by the time they graduate, this drops only a tiny bit, to 30% (Klein, p.18). Gains in critical thinking over the course of a college education, as measured by the CLA, are rather small: 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years of college (Arum, p. 35).

So in the population of the US, we have some people whose critical thinking skills are low enough that they would believe, for example, in the birther conspiracy theory, which Donald Trump was one of the earliest and most influential supporters of. These people are less likely to go to college and graduate.

Some answers have suggested that going to college exposes people to more diverse people, which makes them less racist and therefore less likely to be Trump supporters. This is a two-step hypothesis, and the evidence doesn't seem to provide much clear support for the first step. The first few papers I turned up in a google search on this kind of thing (Fischer, two papers by Wodtke) did not seem to clearly support it. It is true that controlling for racism and sexism reduces the effect of education on Trump voting so much that the 2016 election looks like previous elections (Schaffner), but since there doesn't seem to be much evidence that education cures racism, this three-way correlation among education, racism, and Trumpism is probably not one in which education plays a causal role.

There is also a clear correlation between education and rural/urban lifestyles. For example, 21% of people in Mississippi have a college degree, while in California it's 33%. The US two-party system is very strongly correlated right now with urban vs rural, and it's therefore natural that it correlates with education. So again, there are strong, obvious reasons for education to correlate with voting behavior not because education causes voting behavior but because preexisting characteristics cause both.

So in summary, a college education correlates with voting against Trump, and also correlates strongly with a number of personal traits, but the evidence does not seem to support the notion that college education causes any of these things.

We should also keep in mind that college does not make people into civil libertarians (60% of college students say the first amendment requires equal time for opposing views on a college campus), and that both liberals and conservatives in the US are susceptible to conspiracy theories and pseudoscience (think anti-vaxxers, or Alice Walker promoting David Icke).


Arum and Roksa, Academically Adrift

Fischer, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11218-011-9161-3?error=cookies_not_supported&code=44a02b87-c65b-4266-b20b-3ff2e827c82c

Klein, http://web.stanford.edu/dept/SUSE/SEAL/Reports_Papers/CollegiateLearningAssessment.pdf

Schaffner, B., MacWilliams, N., & Nteta, T. (2018). Understanding white polarization in the 2016 vote for president: The sobering role of racism and sexism. Political Science Quarterly, 133(1), 9–34., https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/polq.12737

Wodtke, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3883053/ , https://www.asanet.org/sites/default/files/attach/journals/dec18spqfeature.pdf

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    Glad that at least someone mentioned urban/rural divide. This is one of the better answers so far.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 2:18

The President denies science

The current President denies science (on topics that matter in the current elections), and educated people may care more about that than less-educated people. This aspect applies specifically to the situation in the USA in 2020 and cannot be generalised to other times or places¹.

The current American president (2017-2021) is anti-science. He has denied the science on climate change as a "Chinese hoax", he has repeatedly contradicted science on the COVID-19 pandemic, spreads conspiracy theories and "alternative facts", and his administration has repeatedly silenced and attacked government scientists. With his anti-science "alternative facts" approach it is therefore no surprise that few scientists support him (perhaps unless their job depends on it). People with college education may be more likely to consider this a fault than those without. Although in general denying science can and does occur on all sides of the political spectrum², in the US in 2020 the President is particularly associated with it compared to the main opposition candidate, and in the 2020 election, this denial has a major impact on the major political topics of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. See also What caused the tendency for conservatives to not support climate change regulations? and Why is denying global warming associated with conservatives? for more on denial of environmental science in general and climate change in particular.

This is far from the only reason, but it contributes, and it is a factor that didn't apply in the past.

It is telling that the normally neutral Scientific American has endorsed a candidate for the first time in history (of course they also criticise left-wing candidates when their approach is anti-science, as they are not a political magazine; their agenda is to defend science as such, not a particular political ideology).

¹I am only aware of the federal situation. I cannot comment as to whether partisan denial of science applies to state-level elections in the USA in 2020.

²For examples on the left, one can name exaggerating the risks of genetic modification or nuclear fission power; for examples occurring on all sides, consider anti-vaccine campaigns or "electric allergy" and associated 5G protests. As far as I'm aware, none of those are significant election campaign issues in the 2020 United States Presidential elections.

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    This answer talks a lot about Covid-19, but the differences in voting patterns between college and non-college educated White people were noted in 2016, long before the disease emerged. However, I think you are correct overall since anti-intellectual and anti-science (climate-change denial, criticisms of science funding, skepticism of environmentalism, criticisms of universities as being leftward leaning) themes have been standard talking points of Republican politicians for decades, while anti-science ideas on the left generally aren't taken up by mainstream politicians.+1 Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 15:10
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    @WaterMolecule - you mean like combatting global warming with nuclear power which is a mainstream left science denial for decades? Or anti-GMO? Or attacking biology over identity politics? Riiiight. Never happened.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 15:13
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    @user4012 Nuclear power is controversial (and not sustainable), and (as my answer states!) its risks and downsides are exaggerated (sometimes wildly so) by some on the left, but it's not a major issue in the current elections.
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 15:14
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    @user4012 Biden's climate plan actually includes expanded funding for nuclear power, as does the House Democrats' climate plan, so the idea that modern Democrats are irrationally anti-nuclear, is just false
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 17:00
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    @user4012 I'm not referring to my subjective preference evaluation, but about major topics in the 2020 presidential campaign. Maybe those are important to you, but they're not major topics right now (and whether GMO is needed to prevent millions of people dying from hunger is debatable, to say the least; essentially all famines happen in the context of war or criminal economic mismanagement; certainly GMO can be used for good, but to claim it as needed to solve world hunger oversells it by quite a bit). I don't know the non-Biden Democratic Party position on GMO or nuclear power.
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 16:50

Having a college degree is a proxy for being smart.

Pollsters cannot ask directly how capable someone is at critical thinking, rational analysis of arguments, understanding consequences of policy, or able to do simple fact checking on outright lies. However if you have a college degree it is more likely that you are at least capable of doing these things (since if you can't do them you are unlikely to get a college degree).

This is of course just a statistical correlation - there are plenty of people capable of all these who don't have college degrees, and some with college degrees who can't do them. And there are plenty of intelligent and educated people who do vote for Donald Trump. But the undereducated do vote for him disproportinately.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – CDJB
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 16:03
  • As it stands, this answer has no explanatory power, doesn't commit itself to any testable predictions, and doesn't offer any evidence for itself. It states that A is correlated with B because both A and B are correlated with C, while C can't be measured.
    – user5526
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 20:47
  • You are presuming that Democrat voters are smarter, which is not in evidence. Also, given how much sports achievements, volunteering, and social background matter for college admission now, college degree doesn't necessarily indicate critical thinking anymore, only the ability to learn fairly straightforward American HS program. So no, you cannot use college degree as a proxy for critical thinking anymore.
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 18:37

Well answer is that we do not know since all social "science" "research" will be thinly veiled "stupid people vote Republican".


Colleges staff are extremely left wing, especially in social "sciences". According to Fox News:

A 2004 poll found that among sociology professors, 25 percent self-identified as "Marxist,” 49 percent identified as Democrats, and 5 percent as Republicans.

So in 2004 there were 5x more Marxists professors of sociology that Republicans...

So it could be a mix of people who go to college being attracted to leftist ideas, it could be the case of college education causing the shift, it could be the fact that major cities are where colleges mostly are(and people in cities are more left leaning), it could be that student loans make you more likely to want to redistribute some wealth...

We do not know, and for sure social "science" research will not tell us since only allowed result in social sciences is that Republicans are evil, Democrats are good.

  • Absolutely! 2006 poll showed 17.6% marxists, but the difference may be due to different framing of poll questions. That's what driving college kids' opinions, IMHO.
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 18:42

What was asked:

Why does having a college degree or not make a difference among white Americans?

Stating the question that way seems to imply that having a degree changes who you are and what you believe. I don't think OP was implying that, although there are answers that have gone that direction. Instead I think what is being asked is:

Out of all people with college degrees why are there more people voting Democrat?

I will try to answer this restated question.

Republicans value college differently from Democrats

One reason why there is a difference in the voting of college graduates is because there is a difference in the number of conservatives that attend and finish college. Republicans are less likely to go to or finish college, not primarily because of their intellectual capability, but because of differences in preference or the value they see in their time at college.

Percent of students that identify as conservative

In the UC system in California in 2020 about 10% of students identify as somewhat to very conservative. If you compare this to the percent of overall Republican registered voters in California which is 24%, you can see there is a discrepancy.

From this article that says going to college does not make you more liberal, a study found the following:

the tendency of college graduates to be more liberal reflects to a large extent the fact that liberal students are more likely to go to college in the first place.

Purpose of higher education

Many Republicans may not have the same views on higher education as Democrats. One such example is the purpose of going to college. A majority of Republicans believe the main purpose is to teach specific skills and knowledge that can be used in the workplace while Democrats believe that college both teaches skills and helps an individual grow personally and intellectually.

College campuses have a political agenda/tilt

Many Republicans believe that most college campuses are liberal, and push their liberal agenda onto the students thereby converting them. This argument about conversion is largely proven false by some studies, but this is still a concern for most Republicans. This means a Republican parent might think their child will be intimidated into being liberal. For the same reason, a liberal parent would avoid sending their child to an overtly conservative school unless they had an overriding reason such as religious beliefs.

College students that identify as Republicans hide their political views in class or on projects for fear of getting bad grades. Would you want to continue going to a school where you have to hide who you are?

Colleges are not preparing students for their career

A majority of Republicans believe that colleges are not doing a good job at preparing graduates for the workforce. In addition, a majority of Republicans think gaining skills for your career is more important than any other aspect of college.

Parents that feel this way might instead choose to send their kids to a trade school or encourage them to get a job directly. If a conservative student felt that their college was not preparing them to get a job they'd likely get a job and drop out rather than rack up debt or spend money on college.


Most of this response is rooted in the information found in this PEW article, there are many other studies and articles available to back up the items listed above.

UC Voter Participation Survey https://ucop.edu/institutional-research-academic-planning/_files/ug-voter-participation-at-uc

California Voter Registration Report https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/report-registration/60day-gen-2020

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    "Republicans are less likely to go to or finish college." Among the general population in 2015, 32% identified as D and 23% R, while among those with college degrees, the percentages were 34% and 24%, which is almost exactly the same proportion. pewresearch.org/politics/2015/04/07/…
    – user5526
    Commented Oct 27, 2020 at 21:03

The United States is theorectically a meritocracy, where people rise to the level of their talents, and where there are no hereditary aristocracies, or permanent underclasses. In practice, however, American society is highly stratified, with less class mobility than Americans tend to assume. One of the most important markers of class status, particularly among white Americans, is college education. The skyrocketing costs of college education make it difficult to access for the poor. However, it's also the most reliable route out of the underclass for those who ARE able to achieve class mobility (providing mastery not only of content knowledge, but also of a range of class-associated cultural values and signifiers).

In other words, college degree can reliably be used as a proxy for a constellation of stable cultural and socioeconomic differences, which, in turn, impact what people perceive their interests to be, and whom they identify with, and thus, whom they vote for.

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    In my opinion, a pithy answer is a legitimate alternative to a lengthy one. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 15:54
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    This post doesn't actually answer the question.
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 18:37
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    @gerrit - I thought it was pretty clearly implicit, but I edited to make it explicit. Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 18:40
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    @ChrisSunamisupportsMonica Still not. It impacts what people perceive their interests to be, but your post doesn't address why that impact appears reversed compared to the classical distinction of "poor uneducated working class -> socialist, wealthy educated elite -> conservative", which has been true in many places in the (recent) past and would be much easier to explain as it would actually align with self-interest (in a limited short-term economic sense).
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 18:54
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    @gerrit - But none of that is in the original question. The question is why are there significant differences in voting patterns between white people with and without college degrees in America. Nothing in the original question touches on whether those differences make theoretical economic sense. My answer gets right to the heart of the question actually asked --because these are two distinct populations, not just the same population with and without a degree. Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 0:50

the majority of non-college-degree white people support Trump's reelection, while the majority of college-degree white people don't

This may be true but many college-educated Trump supporters simply won't admit to it because of the backlash they would receive. I suspect this may bias a lot of polls.

Many lecturers in American colleges are radical Left, especially in the "softer" subjects. The non-academic staff are very reluctant to challenge any "politically correct" views for fear of repercussions.

As a result, in the current climate, conservative students have to be careful about revealing their beliefs and affiliations for fear of being branded fascists/racists/white-supremacists and every other "ist" that the left can throw at them. This can result in 'cancelling' and doxing, not to say just being screamed at in the corridors.

Even mildly right-leaning students are aware of this.

Here's an example of a student who lost her university job as a result of asking students to consider both sides of a particular incident.

  • 2
    I’m really not sure what question this is trying to answer. I suppose it could be a frame shift answer - saying that this divide doesn’t exist, except that it doesn’t argue that. It basically just says: “I don’t know, but actually conservatives are oppressed and live in fear”. If you do think that the polling is wrong on this, can you give some evidence?
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 2:56
  • @divibisan I got the impression that the answer said something like, since voting demographics are only acquirable through exit polling, that a certain percentage may be misrepresenting their vote for social reasons, thus the perception may be nonexistent or exaggerated
    – awsirkis
    Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 7:02
  • @awsorkis The suggest that maybe that’s the case, but they don’t actually argue for that or provide any evidence for it.
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 14:54

One of the major reasons is that today's Social Sciences and Humanities professors are overwhelmingly leftist. Here is somewhat dated data, from 7 years ago, that shows that college professors are much further to the left than their students.

It's difficult to overestimate how far to the left Social Sciences professors are. Most of them self-describe as radicals, activists, or marxists. Given that marxism caused unfathomable suffering and more death than nazism, it's astounding that 17% of college Social Sciences professors are marxists. That is not true about college professors in other fields of study: one rarely if ever encounters an Engineering or Physical Science professor with such views. However, Engineering or Physical Sciences professors are not the ones who influence the students' political viewpoints.

Many of the Social Sciences professors often impose their political views on the college students. Given their status they convince some students and basically bully other students into accepting their viewpoints. And when many students buy into the leftist rhetoric, including the acceptance of bullying and ostracizing and slandering conservatives, they effectively participate in silencing the conservative students, making them afraid to speak up, which turns colleges into echo chambers of radically leftist views.

With the conservative students afraid to speak up the perception of what conservatives represent is inevitably skewed by the strawman arguments voiced by the college leftists. I find the perception gap data very interesting; let me quote some of their findings:

Education is intended to make us better informed about the world, so we’d expect that the more educated you become, the more you understand what other Americans think. In fact, the more educated a person is, the worse their Perception Gap – with one critical exception. This trend only holds true for Democrats, not Republicans. In other words, while Republicans’ misperceptions of Democrats do not improve with higher levels of education, Democrats’ understanding of Republicans actually gets worse with every additional degree they earn. This effect is so strong that Democrats without a high school diploma are three times more accurate than those with a postgraduate degree.

Why do Democrats, as they become more educated, have a wider Perception Gap? The evidence suggests that it’s likely because they have fewer Republican friends. Highly educated Democrats are the most likely to say that “most of my friends” share their political beliefs. The same is not true of Republicans – more educated Republicans report having about as many Democrat friends as less educated Republicans. And Democrats whose friends are similar to them politically have a significantly wider Perception Gap than those with more political diversity in their friendship groups.

And so, with the indoctrination from the Social Sciences professors, with the peer pressure from the fellow students, and with the increased perception gap, many college graduates end up leaning further left.


A few relevant divisive points not made by other answers:

  • Most modern American Colleges wash away some of the institutional racism and sexism culturally infused into white Americans upbringings.

  • Colleges additionally infuse students with just enough superficial economics to make the now confused student more susceptible to politicians who mostly abandon working class laborers, (i.e. the parents of many students), under cover of economic rationalizations.

  • Right or wrong, modern colleges didactic anti-racism and economism are usually too superficial to make persuasive evangelists of most students. A lone student returning to their home town optimistically wishing to enlighten their friendly non-college peers may fail miserably, and in despair either retreat to a city, or settle for a less influential marginalization, whether clubby or cringing.

  • College degrees in 2021 are often acquired by the help of unexpectedly substantial and resilient debts. Severely indebted former students comprise an interest group with different needs than blue-collar workers.

    A student or graduate too indebted to start a family may, unlike prior generations, feel an unfriendly and envious resentment towards their blue-collar former peers who have families.

    A candidate who supports professional accreditation standards financially beneficial to graduates, or who would forgive student loans, is much more appealing to graduates than blue-collar workers.

  • Meanwhile both the presence of, and the lack of, a college education evidently make those respective groupings more easily manipulated by divisive yet flattering targeted propaganda.

The outcome of this inarticulate learning, credentialism, debt bondage, propaganda, etc. is that all of these set students and their blue-collar former peers at odds, so that a profitable dialogue seldom occurs, and instead America puts out its lawn signs.

  • 14
    Damn, I am conflicted. Couldn't you separate your answer in two, one with actual valid and insightful bullet points (debt and self interest), and one with insulting unprovable offensive left wing dogma (anyone not going to college apparently has their views because they are too dumb to not listen to propagana, unlike those smart college kids who never listen to any propaganda ever).
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:17
  • @user4012, Thanks for the critique. Believe it or not, I hadn't meant to suggest that non-collegiates are "too dumb to not listen to propaganda" -- rather I'd meant that each group is subject to its own set of divisive propaganda. (Particularly for college goers, that crippling debt won't do more harm than good...)
    – agc
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:23
  • If you don't mind editing that talking point, it would be appreciated (although it kind of loses most of its potency absent some sort of data proving it)
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:27
  • 18
    Ironically, your first bullet point is exactly the illustration of that - I view the statement about "institutional racism and sexism culturally infused into white Americans upbringings" to be a racist and ridiculous propaganda (and i wasn't even brought up in white America in the first place, so it's not like I'm personally butt hurt by something impunging me - I just object to the racist nature of that statement)
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 22, 2020 at 14:37
  • 1
    @user4012, Thanks for the edit, (improvements always welcome), but alas, it errs in modifying the noun, rather than the verb -- IOW, "makes laundry more easily cleaned" does not equal "makes easily cleaned laundry", the latter being a subset of the former.
    – agc
    Commented Oct 24, 2020 at 5:19

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