I have read some people on this site talking about how whether or not white Americans have a college degree can change their voting habits. I was thinking about this topic regardless of race in Congress.

Has it been shown that Democratic members of Congress are more educated than their Republican counterparts? Or, vice versa?

I mean based on things like how much post graduate schooling and achievements they have made. I think something about vocabulary could also count. This needs to be educational statistics that can be measured in an objective and nonpartisan manner.

  • There is no objective way to usefully measure the amount of education. It's what you do with it, not what paper you have or letters after (or before) your name. I'd rather have an uneducated honest person over practically any politician. with rare exceptions. We need a test for honesty - mandatory lie detector tests for candidates ? :-) Oct 26, 2020 at 23:23
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    @StephenG what in the world are you talking about? Education is a formal process that is trivially measured (and is, all the time, for government purposes). You may be confusing it with knowledge.
    – Davor
    Oct 27, 2020 at 12:43
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    @StephenG - OK, so you are definitely confusing education with knowledge attained.
    – Davor
    Oct 27, 2020 at 12:50
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    @Davor I fear to ask what your definition for education is if it is not knowledge gained ? What is the purpose of education except to impart knowledge ? Oct 27, 2020 at 12:54
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    @StephenG the question simply asks for formal education in a measurable way (in US high school, college, doctorate, etc.) and its distribution between the two large parties in US Congress. While I agree with you that many degrees cannot be compared regarding the knowledge obtained therein, your challenge of the premises of the question would probably make it unanswerable within the scope of this site. Oct 27, 2020 at 16:54

2 Answers 2


Psychologist Jonathan Wai looked at this factor in his 2012 article; Investigating America's elite: Cognitive ability, education, and sex differences, published in the Intelligence journal. His metric for intelligence is based on admission to a highly selective college, working from conclusions drawn by Charles Murray in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010:

The average graduate of an elite college is at the 99th centile of IQ of the entire population of seventeen-year-olds. This is consistent with the median combined Critical Reading and Mathematics scores of 1400 or more among the top dozen schools in the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings.

In 2010, a combined score of 1400 put a student at about the 97th percentile of all students who took the SAT (based on the distribution produced by the known means and standard deviations for the two tests and a correlation of +0.7 between them). But the number of test-takers in 2010 represented only 36 percent of the seventeen-year-olds in the country. Any plausible assumptions about the proportion of the 62 percent of seventeenyear-olds who didn’t take the SAT who could have gotten a combined score of 1400 or more puts a student who actually does score 1400 well into the 99th centile of the seventeen-year-old population.

Working from these assumptions, Wai identified 29 universities and liberal arts colleges, 12 law schools, and 12 business schools that met Murray's definition of an elite institution. He then used the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress to investigate the educational records of the Senators & Representatives of the 112th Congress.

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He found that not only were Democrats in both the House and Senate significantly more likely to have attended an Elite School than Republicans, they were also more likely to have attended Harvard. He concludes:

Democrats have a higher ability and education level than Republicans

Research has indicated that individuals who are politically liberal are more likely to have higher ability than those who are politically conservative in America (Kanazawa, 2010) and Britain (Deary, Batty, & Gale, 2008). However, this finding pertained to voters rather than political leaders those people had elected. This study demonstrates that in America, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to have a higher percentage of Senate and House members who attended an Elite School which places these individuals in the top 1% in ability. Therefore, among the elected elite, Democrats had a higher ability and education level, on average, than Republicans.

I feel that it's very important to point out the limitations that Wai notes, for example, the approximation of individual ability level based on average test scores at very specific institutions, and the use of these approximated test scores as a proxy for intelligence. However, Wai's article seems like a pretty good objective academic analysis despite these limitations.

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    I find the assumptions, and their assumed implications, in this work to be questionable, but it is nevertheless a piece of scholarship on the topic, and is pretty clear about making those assumptions and seeing what you get from them, and so worth pointing out and considering. (+1) Oct 26, 2020 at 11:34
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    @quarague It can be questionable even if there is no better way
    – Mark
    Oct 26, 2020 at 21:13
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    While interesting, I don't think this answers the OPs question. Does obtaining a degree from an "Elite School" actually correlate to being more educated? Oct 26, 2020 at 21:29
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    nytimes.com/2019/03/27/magazine/… explains that at elite schools, "The wealthy launder their privilege by allowing select others to earn their way into its orbit. And the intelligence and success of hardworking peers makes a wealthy wastrel seem qualified by association: Maybe he graduated with straight C’s, a drinking problem and an unearned job at the family business, but he went to Yale — isn’t that where smart people go?" Does Wai try to control for that?
    – ruakh
    Oct 26, 2020 at 22:40
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    Wai's article seems like a pretty good objective academic analysis despite these limitations. It's an appallingly bad article that does not address the influence of money and power in someone getting into such an institution or the documented cases of privileged people falsifying not just the qualifications for entry, but the entire acadmeic record of their children by using a combination of institutional donations and hiring people to take their tests for them. Without addressing the extent of these practices the article simply paints a false glossy impression of a corrupt system. Oct 27, 2020 at 0:20

Congress is, as a whole, extraordinarily well-educated, especially when compared to the greater population averages. For decades now the House has had 90% or more of its members have at least a College degree—with 40% having a Doctorate (including J.D.'s) and another 20% having a Masters—, with more recent Houses being at 94% and above. It's surprisingly a little hard for me to find accessible party-line breakdowns, as most summaries (from the Congressional Research Service, say) seem to provide statistics only for entire chambers, and do not list party affiliations when naming specific members.

But here's an article that breaks down degree composition on a party basis in the House, for the last handful of Congresses or so, up to the 115th Congress (the one Trump was inaugurated under; the current Congress is the 116th, and is a historically well-educated Congress going by the measure of undergrad degrees). In short, the proportion of members with college degrees has been very high and essentially identical across party lines for several decades. Democrats are a bit more likely to have gone to a private college, and Republicans correspondingly more likely to have gone to a public one. There are 11 Democrats in the 115th Congress that went to an Ivy league for their undergrad degree, while only 4 Republicans in the same Congress did. For the last decade or so Democrats have had the edge on Ivy league educations. If one really values "Ivy league education" as being the "better educated kind", perhaps we could substantiate the claims that Democrats are better educated. But given that there are over 400 members of the House alone, a mere 15 combined across both parties is a pretty meager sample.

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    That 40% figure includes people with a J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree, which requires three years of post-baccalaureate education -- about the same as a master's degree and considerably less than a doctorate in other fields. Oct 26, 2020 at 11:25
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    zibadawa timmy, it is common in the hard sciences to take multiple days to digest a 20 page paper. One of the most challenging graduate level classes I took was on Optimal Control Theory, unfortunately taught by a pure mathematician. We made it through the first 60 pages of the text. He made us fill in the blanks in the hand-wavy proofs that are fine for applied mathematics but are anathema to pure mathematicians. (Most instructors skip those first 60 pages.) I learned two things: An optimal control sometime does exist, and to never take an applied math class taught by a pure mathematician. Oct 26, 2020 at 12:56
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    Students of mathematics, computer science, and the physical sciences have to learn early on to read very slowly because authors leave immense blanks as an exercise to be filled in by the reader. That's diametrically opposed to how students of the humanities have to learn to read several hundred pages a week. Oct 26, 2020 at 13:02
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    Compare Einstein's 1905 paper on special relativity: 23 pages and no references. A humanities paper of comparable length will have hundreds of references. Oct 26, 2020 at 13:04
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    @zibadawatimmy The point is that you can't say a JD > Master's based on page count alone. Oct 26, 2020 at 20:18

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