PRINCETON, NJ -- National Democrats remain strongly divided by education as to their preferences for their party's presidential nomination, with less well-educated Democrats supporting Hillary Clinton, while those with college and postgraduate educations are just as strongly skewed toward Barack Obama.
Both major Democratic candidates are Ivy League-educated lawyers -- Clinton with a law degree from Yale, and Obama with a law degree from Harvard. Both have adopted a populist rhetoric on the campaign trail, pushing for higher taxes on the rich and emphasizing government programs that would be designed to help the less fortunate.
Yet the two candidates' support levels have been and remain significantly influenced by voter education levels. Among all Democratic voters interviewed in the first seven days of April as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking, Clinton leads by a 13-point margin among those who have high school educations or less. Obama, on the other hand, leads among all other groups, including a 34-point margin among Democrats with postgraduate educations.
This general pattern is not new. Last August, for example, a review of Democratic voting data showed that -- just as is the case today -- Clinton led Obama by a large margin among all Democrats with high school educations or less, while the two were tied among those with postgraduate educations (at that time, of course, there were other candidates in the race).
Black Democrats strongly favor Obama regardless of their educational level. Among non-Hispanic white Democrats, the difference in support for the two candidates remains large among those with postgraduate educations, and becomes greater among those with high school educations or less.
Among white Democrats with high school educations or less, Clinton beats Obama by roughly a 2-to-1 margin. She still wins, although by a reduced margin, among white Democrats with some college. Among college graduates, Obama wins. And among white Democrats with postgraduate educations, Obama beats Clinton by almost a 2-to-1 margin -- the mirror image of what is found among Democrats with high school educations or less.
One possible explanation for the highly significant difference in support for the two candidates by education is that Democrats with less education have a greater objection to a black presidential candidate. A December 2007 Gallup Poll, however, showed only a slight difference by education in the stated acceptance of a black candidate for president. Ninety-seven percent of those with college degrees said they would vote for a "generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be black," compared to 91% of those with high school educations or less. This lack of objection to a black candidate across the educational spectrum would not seem to support a theory that racism is at the base of the educational differences.
One of the most significant issues in the Democratic campaign this year was the focus on the controversial sermons of Obama's former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Even though overt objections to Obama's race did not appear to be behind the educational differences among white Democrats, it is possible that the focus on the Wright controversy could have affected the support for Obama among Democrats with lower levels of education, as some have suggested.
In order to investigate that possibility, Gallup analyzed the voting patterns of white Democrats in its daily tracking data for the seven-day period of March 9-15, as the Wright controversy was in the news, and the most recent seven-day period, April 1-7.
The results show little change in the pattern of support among white Democrats with high school educations or less. This group supported Clinton over Obama by 33 points in the March 9-15 period, and supports her by a 30-point margin now. This suggests that as race arguably became a bigger factor in the campaign, less-educated white Democrats were not affected.
The biggest change, in fact, came about among those with postgraduate educations, who went from an 8-point margin for Obama in the March sample to a 29-point margin now. In other words, Obama's increase in support overall among whites during this period looks like it occurred for the most part among those with college and in particular postgraduate educations.
Obama continues to have strong support levels among Democrats who have college and postgraduate educations, while Clinton finds her greatest support among those with high school educations or less.
This relationship is particularly evident among non-Hispanic white Democrats. Clinton has essentially double the support of Obama among white Democrats with only a high-school level of education, while Obama has just about double her support level among white Democrats with postgraduate educations.
This existing pattern is a continuation of trends in the data evident as long ago as last summer. It seems that from the moment he appeared on the national scene as a serious Democratic contender, Obama's appeal has been strongly skewed toward those with high levels of education, while Clinton has been the dominant favorite of those with less education.
Educational attainment is correlated with age, and it is known that Clinton does best among older voters. But Gallup analysis shows that the relationship between candidate support and education persists even among Democrats who are 50 years of age and older.
A comparison of data from March -- as the Wright controversy was unfolding -- and April data shows that Obama's relative support levels among those with high levels of educational attainment has actually increased over this period, and shows little support for the hypothesis that less well-educated Democrats have swung to Clinton as a result of the Wright controversy.
Another explanation could be that Obama is less well-known than Clinton among those with lower education levels, and that Clinton does best among this group because of her higher relative name identification. But March Gallup Poll data show that both Obama and Clinton have near-universal name identification across all educational levels.
The Gallup analysis from last August reviewed the fact that "new" candidates -- including Howard Dean in 2004, Bill Bradley in 2000, and Michael Dukakis in 1988 -- have traditionally excited more interest from highly educated Democrats. It could be that less well-educated voters are simply more comfortable with candidates who have been around for a long time (Clinton in this year's race), while Democratic voters with higher education levels are more comfortable supporting someone who is new on the scene.
All in all, the underlying reasons for the extraordinary differences in Democratic candidate support by education are not perfectly clear at this point. The basic facts, however, remain clear: Clinton is the highly favored candidate among Democrats with lower levels of education, while Obama is just as highly favored by those with college and postgraduate educations.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 2,859 Democratic voters, aged 18 and older, conducted April 1-7, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.
Other results are based on telephone interviews with 2,896 Democratic voters, aged 18 and older, conducted March 9-15, 2008. For these results, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.