Class and Sarah Palin

Ross Douthat on Sarah Palin:

That last statistic is a crucial one. Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology. In this sense, she really is the perfect foil for Barack Obama. Our president represents the meritocratic ideal — that anyone, from any background, can grow up to attend Columbia and Harvard Law School and become a great American success story. But Sarah Palin represents the democratic ideal — that anyone can grow up to be a great success story without graduating from Columbia and Harvard.

I think the implicit idea here that the real class struggle in the United States is between graduates of fancy colleges and graduates of less-fancy colleges is pretty blinkered. Consider the Census Department’s information on educational attainment in the United States of America:

As you can see, less than a third of the population has a bachelor’s degree. But both of Sarah Palin’s parents belong to that educational upper class. And so does Palin herself. Meanwhile, I think it’s telling that Douthat’s idea of a counterpoint to Obama’s Ivy pedigree is Palin rather than, say, Joe Biden of the University of Delaware and the Syracuse University College of Law. Biden strikes me as an excellent example of the fact that a person can attend some not-so-fancy universities and yet be both enormously successful and widely acknowledged to be a smart person with a command of the issues. Palin, by contrast, is someone who Douthat acknowledges needs more time “to bone up on the issues.”


And that is the key to people’s complaint with Palin; not that she attended North Idaho College but that she ran for Vice President and spoke out on a range of issues without seeming to understand any of them. That’s a big deal, and it’s not mere snobbery to point out that it’s a big deal.

Meanwhile, John Sides points out that educational attainment has relatively little impact on public approval of Palin:

When you consider that college graduates and people without bachelor’s degrees typically disagree on political issues, there’s nothing noteworthy about this rather small gap. College graduates are somewhat less conservative on culture war issues than non-graduates, so you would expect them to be less friendly to cultural conservative politicians irrespective of their personal qualities.