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Examining Barack Obama's Strong Appeal to Highly Educated Americans

Examining Barack Obama's Strong Appeal to Highly Educated Americans

Obama's appeal to the highly educated is particular strong among independents and Republicans

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Illinois Sen. and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has a much greater appeal to highly educated Americans than to those with less education. Obama's favorable rating goes from 39% among those with high school educations or less to 68% among those with postgraduate educations. A part of the explanation for this phenomenon is that Obama is better known among those with higher levels of education. An additional causal factor is that highly educated Americans are more likely to be Democrats. But Gallup analysis shows that Obama has a particularly strong appeal to independents and Republicans with higher levels of education, a pattern that is not duplicated by New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, or and former Vice President Al Gore.

Basic Data

One finding has been clear in Gallup analysis of data relating to Obama in 2007: He appears to have greater appeal to highly educated Americans. This is evident in the basic balloting among Democrats. Obama essentially ties Clinton among Democrats with postgraduate educations, but loses to her by more than 30 percentage points among Democrats with high school educations or less.

The appeal of Obama to Americans with higher levels of education is not confined just to Democrats, but is evident among the national population based on the Gallup Poll's favorable/unfavorable rating scale.

The fundamental nature of the correlation between education and favorable rating for Obama is evident in the graph, which is based on an aggregated sample of more than 4,000 interviews derived from four Gallup Polls conducted in June, July, and August of this year.

Obama's favorable ratings climb from 39% among Americans with high school educations or less to 68% among those with postgraduate educations.

As can be seen, the percentage of Americans with unfavorable opinions of Obama does not go down in inverse proportion to the increase in favorable opinions. In other words, part of the reason why the percentage of favorable views of Obama increase with education is that more people have an opinion of Obama, and this increase appears to come predominantly in the group of those with favorable opinions.

This graph makes it clear that Obama's name identification does indeed increase along with education.

The data presented in the graph control for familiarity by recalculating the percentage of those with a favorable opinion of Obama based only on those who have either a favorable or an unfavorable opinion.

On this measure, of those whom have an opinion of him, Obama receives a favorable rating from 55% of those with high school educations or less. This figure climbs to 76% among those with postgraduate educations whom have an opinion. Clearly, then, the higher favorable ratings Obama receives among those with higher levels of education is not due solely to the fact that he is better known among those with more education. His appeal is stronger to those with higher levels of education who are familiar with him.

Comparative Data

Is this education skew in Obama's appeal to highly educated Americans a phenomenon common to other candidates?

To help answer this question, the table displays the percentage favorable ratings among those with an opinion of the four Democratic candidates by education level.

Favorable Ratio
(percentage favorable opinion based on those
who have either a favorable or unfavorable opinion)

High
School
or Less

Some
College

College
Graduate

Post-
graduate
Education

%

%

%

%

Barack Obama

55

64

69

76

Hillary Clinton

52

46

45

49

John Edwards

59

56

56

64

Al Gore

50

54

53

64

Among the four Democrats the Gallup Polls tracked -- Obama, Clinton, Gore, and Edwards -- three exhibit a somewhat similar education skew. Only Clinton has no increase in percentage favorable among those with a postgraduate education.

As can be seen, however, this pattern is most evident for Obama. As noted in the previous analysis, Obama's favorable rating jumps 21 percentage points between those with high school educations and those with postgraduate educations. This compares with increases of 14 percentage points for Gore and 5 percentage points for Edwards, and a 3-percentage point decline for Clinton.

In short, the skew in appeal by education exhibited by Obama is evident for two other Democrats, although not to the extent evident for Obama. By contrast, Clinton has no upward appeal among those with the highest levels of education.

Underlying Factors

There is little question that some of this skew in appeal for these Democrats is because Americans with postgraduate degrees are significantly more likely to identify as Democrats.

To control for that effect, Gallup looked at the relationship between education and favorable opinions within partisan groups.

Among Democrats, the positive relationship between education and favorable ratings is evident not just for Obama, but also for Edwards and Gore.

Favorable Ratio for Democrats Only
(percentage favorable opinion based on those
who have either a favorable or unfavorable opinion)

High
School
or Less

Some
College

College
Graduate

Post-
graduate
Education

%

%

%

%

Barack Obama

66

89

93

92

Hillary Clinton

86

80

85

86

John Edwards

79

75

86

88

Al Gore

75

85

84

94

Obama's favorable ratio among Democrats with postgraduate educations is no stronger than it is for Gore, and just slightly higher than it is for Edwards and Clinton. In other words, Obama does not occupy a uniquely positive position among highly educated Democrats.

There is a different pattern evident in the data among independents and Republicans, however.

Favorable Ratio for Independents Only
(percentage favorable opinion based on those
who have either a favorable or unfavorable opinion)

High
School
or Less

Some
College

College
Graduate

Post-
graduate
Education

%

%

%

%

Barack Obama

60

67

73

78

Hillary Clinton

45

45

48

47

John Edwards

58

59

60

66

Al Gore

49

54

60

64

 

Favorable Ratio for Republicans Only
(percentage favorable opinion based on those
who have either a favorable or unfavorable opinion)

High
School
or Less

Some
College

College
Graduate

Post-
graduate
Education

%

%

%

%

Barack Obama

34

35

45

51

Hillary Clinton

19

13

11

08

John Edwards

35

30

31

32

Al Gore

23

18

21

25

Obama has a stronger appeal to those independents and Republicans with postgraduate educations than is the case for any of the other three Democratic personalities. Independents also rate Obama more favorably regardless of education level. Edwards and Gore have a somewhat similar increase in appeal to those with postgraduate educations compared to those with lower levels of education among independents. Among Republicans, Obama's skew in appeal by education appears to be unique among these four Democratic personalities.

Summary

Obama enjoys a particularly positive image among Americans who have high levels of education. This is caused in part by the fact that he is a Democrat, and Americans with postgraduate levels of education are more likely than others to identify personally as Democrats. In fact, controlling for party and name identification, the data show that Obama does not have an unusually strong appeal to highly educated Democrats compared to other Democratic personalities.

But Obama's appeal is stronger among those with higher levels of education who are independents and Republicans than is the case for the other Democrats surveyed. This is particularly true among Republicans with postgraduate educations, among whom Obama enjoys a slightly more positive than negative image -- unusual for a Democratic presidential candidate.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with four randomly selected national samples of 4037 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted in June, July, and August 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±2 percentage points.

Gallup

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