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More on Palin’s “Class Appeal”

- July 7, 2009

In comments to my earlier post, Monkey Cage reader Jim notes that his analysis of the 2008 American National Election Studies finds a significant relationship between education and feelings toward Palin, controlling for party identification. He sent me his models via email, and they look interesting. Especially noteworthy is that the model of attitudes toward Palin looks much different than a similar model of attitudes toward McCain. I wanted to dive in, especially because Jim’s analysis is in tension with the Pew data I analyzed in the post and seems to support Ross Douthat’s contention that Palin’s appeal is class-based. Here is some more analysis.

Like Jim, I measure attitudes toward Palin and McCain with the “feeling thermometer,” a 0-100 scale where 0 signifies very negative attitudes, 100 signifies very positive attitudes, and 50 signifies a neutral attitude. Below are graphs that plot the mean thermometer rating for each candidate across educational categories, with separate lines for each partisan group. (Independents who lean toward a party are counted as partisans. For this group, I combine those with college and graduate degrees because there are few respondents in the latter category.) By plotting each partisan group separately, I am allowing for the effects of education and party identification to “interact.”


Above is the graph for Palin. Obviously, Republicans have much more positive feelings toward her than do Democrats. But the key question is, does education matter?

The short answer is: yes, but only for Democrats, and then only somewhat. Republicans of every educational background tend to like her. Independents are pretty neutral, no matter their level of education. Simply put, among this large fraction of the population, Palin’s appeal (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with class, at least as captured by formal education.

Democrats with no college degree tend to be unfavorable, with averages in the 40s. Democrats with at least a college degree are even less favorable, with averages in the high 20s. Overall, there is about 12-point gap between Democrats with and without a college degree. This direction of this relationship confirms Douthat’s account, but the magnitude of the relationship is modest at best. And this relationship shouldn’t conceal this basic fact: Democrats tend not to like Palin, no matter what. This is confirmed in the more recent Pew data, which found that only 24% of Democrats had a favorable opinion of her.


But, as Jim’s analysis also found, education has even less to do with evaluations of McCain. The graph above shows this pretty clearly.

So Palin’s “appeal” is different than McCain’s. But is it linked to class? I remain unconvinced.

(For more, see Mark Blumenthal and Jennifer Agiesta.)