In Defense Of The ‘Poorly Educated’ Voter

Native American children about to be educated via wiki commons
“Poorly educated” Native American children entering a frontier school via wiki commons

In coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I keep hearing a particularly troubling phrase come up over and over again. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to not come across it when you read any sort of analysis about the candidates’ latest polling numbers. That term?

Uneducated voters.

What an incredibly blunt little descriptor, huh? In a world in which everything is sanitized and carefully softened into mass marketable, inoffensive politically-correct speech, here’s a term that absolutely clobbers you over the head with its brusqueness. It’s not even trying to be polite or pandering: it’s literally statisticians and journalists and policy analysts calling people a bunch of morons.

Of course, “uneducated voter” is very much a loaded – if not downright discriminatory – phrase. Essentially, it’s a condensed way of referring to poll takers who don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree. But the media never comes out and positions it like that, do they? Those very same people could just as easily be referred to as “non-degree holding voters,” or “voters without college degrees.” But instead, the much shorter – and much more aggressive – term “uneducated voter” seems to be the universally-preferred terminology.

And if you don’t think that’s intentional, I’ve got a bridge in London I want to sell you.

As a guy who has spent about half his career in journalism and the other half in public relations, I can tell you that precise wordings like “uneducated voter” aren’t strung together without a discernable reason. Terms like that are leading phrases, designed to get you to subconsciously think something even if the text in front of you doesn’t declare it directly. You really can’t come out and say “all the ignorant stupid people are more likely to vote for x,” but what you can do is strongly, strongly imply it with selective (and strategic) phrasing. Although “uneducated” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as “total idiot,” the underlying assumption you are cognitively hardwired to make is that “uneducated” means “unlearned,” “unknowledgeable,” “unskilled,” and to a certain extent, “uncultured.” So, basically, what all the pollsters and reporters and think tank employees are saying is that if you “only” have a high school diploma, a GED or a two-year diploma … well, you just ain’t as bright as the rest of us, and your opinions – and personal reasons for voting for whoever you vote for – have lesser merits than the opinions of college-educated people and their personal reasons for voting for whoever they are voting for.

It’s about as cut and dry an example of class discrimination as you’ll find anywhere in modern U.S. society. In fact, a five second Google search reveals some downright brazen examples of educational-attainment bigotry.

Nothing is scarier than an uneducated voter,” The San Luis Obispo Tribune reports.

Is having uneducated voters flood the ballots really a good thing?” laments the website Daily Haze.

And in perhaps the ultimate slight against non-college-educated Americans, the author of the tome The Ethics of Voting suggests that uneducated voters represent a social blight on par with drunk drivers.

Wowza! Can you imagine any other arbitrarily defined in-group – demarcated along lines of race, ethnicity or religion – being single-handedly blamed for the downfall of democracy as we know it? One can only imagine the controversy that would emerge if someone came out and said people who make less than $50,000 a year are unworthy of participating in representative governance, but here we are, hearing effectively that same declaration, day-in and day-out on the nightly news and on the front pages of our most respected newspapers.

My, what exactly did the non-college-educated do to receive such a harsh lambasting?

If you think it is all because of sheer partisan politicking, the Pew Research Center data throws us a curveball. As it turns out, Americans whose highest level of educational attainment is a high school degree are actually ten percentage points likelier to be democrats than republicans. If the omnipresent anti-uneducated rancor is merely a smokescreen to paint Trump supporters as unlearned nincompoops, it’s a bit self-defeating seeing as how the other side has an even greater share of uneducated backers. (And furthermore, despite Trump’s admission that he loves “the poorly educated,” his supporters actually appear to make 16 percent more per year in annual income than Clinton backers.)

And if all the rabble rousing about “uneducated voters” is supposed to be a dog whistle to criticize bigoted whites, the usage of the term would actually imply the opposite, since 2015 United States Census Bureau data finds Caucasians post significantly higher rates of high school, associate, bachelor’s and graduate degree attainment than blacks or Hispanics – with foreign born individuals easily three times likelier to not graduate from high school than those born on American soil. Going by sheer statistics, to chastise “the uneducated voter” means, effectively, to chastise minorities, immigrants and those whose political identities lean liberal.

According to the latest Census findings, college-educated Americans remain a vast minority. If you rounded up everybody in the U.S. who has a bachelor’s degree or higher, the voting bloc would comprise barely 32 percent of the general adult population. Even factoring in those with associate degrees, the ratio remains about 58 percent no college diploma versus 42 with a college diploma.

Could it be that some hoity-toity, bachelor’s degree holding snobs simply think they’re “better” than all of the people who never sought out a diploma beyond the ones they got at the end of high school? That was more or less the argument put forward by Paul Fussell in his seminal sociological work Class, in which he described college diplomas as the closest thing America has to Constitutionally-forbidden titles of nobility. Here, educational attainment has nothing to do with actual knowledge and everything to do with a sense of socioeconomic superiority. Having the diploma represents a sort of conferred importance, a tangible symbol of heightened social standing. That degree – if only superficially – grants an individual the perception that he or she is higher up the unacknowledged caste system than those lowly, lowly proles who shop at Wal-Mart and eat at Applebee’s.

Never mind that those people aren’t saddled with masses amount of student debt they’ll never, ever pay off, and never mind the fact that plumbers, electricians and machinists with “only” a high school degree routinely make more money than even graduate students with degrees in subjects like “recreational and leisure studies” and “broadcast communication.” Never mind that construction workers and associate-level nurses and automotive technicians generally contribute more to the “greater good” than those with $90,000 degrees in expressionistic finger painting and Medieval feminism poetry. Never mind that plenty of non-college educated people are nonetheless outstanding parents, hard workers and productive, perfectly law-abiding citizens. Just because they didn’t spend four-plus years studying Marx and socially cognizant haikus and smoking grass and eating at the same pizza places as US, however, we can’t trust ‘em. They never learned the noble truths that we did, like how to copy and paste just enough content from Wikipedia without TurnItIn pinging us for plagiarizing our research papers. They were never indoctrinated … I mean, enlightened … by the same virtuous verities we took out six digits worth of Stafford Loans to “discover.” I mean, what can all of those lowly fast food managers and police officers and secretaries and payroll specialists and truck drivers and diesel mechanics and industrial workers and assembly line techs really know about the way the world works? Unlike them, us college-educated folks are truly open-minded – in fact, we’re so open-minded that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only kind of legitimate “knowledge” anywhere in the world resides in our minds alone.

Of course, not all college-educated people are a bunch of ideologically-blinded egotists incapable of experiencing objective reality beyond their own narrow worldviews. By that same token, however, not all non-college-educated people are a bunch of semi-literate, glibly oblivious dullards too stupid to make decisions of their own accord. Still, people are going to keep pushing that “uneducated voter” rhetoric, as if not having a college degree makes you some sort of second-class citizen by default.

Why should we care what those non-college educated people think, anyway? What do they do for us besides raise our food and deliver our consumer goods and repair our heating and air systems and build our homes and fill out our medical paperwork and process our online orders and make sure our utilities are working and lay the asphalt down for our highways and keep our city streets safe? It’s not like they’re smart enough to make their own informed decisions about what governmental policies best serve them and their families – indeed, us college educated people, without knowing a single damn thing about their predicaments in life other than how many grades they completed, already know what’s best for them and how they ought to live their lives. And if they don’t think exactly like us – regardless of their specific financial, geographical and medical circumstances – they shouldn’t even have the right to participate in the electoral process.

And with a mentality like that firmly entrenched in the consciousness of far too many college-educated elites than we’d like to admit, please tell me – who are the truly ignorant ones again? TC mark

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