Back in December, I wrote in this column that a political consultant advising President Barack Obama on how to boost his approval rating — which was then at 49 percent overall in the Gallup Poll — might suggest the president needed more unmarried, unchurched, poor and inexperienced Americans.
This was because Obama’s approval rating was higher among those who were not married (as opposed to those who were), those who seldom or never went to church (as opposed to those who went weekly), those who earned less than $24,000 per year (as opposed to those who earned more) and those who were between the ages of 18 and 29 (as opposed to those who were older).
The implication of Gallup’s polling numbers was that as people entered traditional family life, established a pattern of regular church attendance, earned more money and grew in experience, they were less likely to approve of the job Obama was doing.
Politically, Obama’s ideal American, I pointed out at the time, was an unmarried, unchurched, poor and inexperienced individual.
This week, Gallup reported that Obama’s approval rating is at an all-time overall low of 46 percent. Reviewing how various segments of the population rated Obama in this poll, I realized there is another group that needs to be recognized as an important element of the president’s base: people who attended graduate school.
Obama still finds greater approval among unmarried, unchurched, poor and inexperienced Americans than he does among the married, churchgoing, middle-class and middle-aged. But he is losing his grip on the unchurched and the poor. In fact, in the past week, Obama’s approval slipped below 50 percent — to 49 percent — among those who say they seldom or never go to church for the first time since his inauguration. (His approval is now 41 percent among those who say they go to church weekly).
Among those who earn less than $2,000 per month, Obama’s approval has fallen to 52 percent — even though it was as high as 60 percent as recently as the week of April 19-25. (In all the income brackets above this one, as reported by Gallup, Obama’s approval is below 50 percent.)
Among unmarried Americans, 54 percent still approve of the job Obama is doing. Not as good as the 59 percent of unmarried people who approved of the job he was doing in the week of Dec. 7-13, but not bad.
Where Obama is holding strong is among Americans who went to graduate school. Among those with a high school diploma or less, 43 percent say they approve of the job Obama is doing. Among those with some college, 44 percent approve of the job Obama is doing. Among those who only graduated from college, 48 percent approve of the job Obama is doing. But among those with graduate school experience, 57 percent approve of the job Obama is doing.
The biggest jump in Obama’s approval comes between college and graduate school. College graduates are closer to both high school dropouts and college dropouts in their approval of Obama than they are to those who went on to graduate school.
Now, Obama’s supporters might find this information complimentary. They may think it is flattering to the president that the longer someone stays in school, the more likely they will be to approve of the job he is doing. They might naturally be tempted to equate longevity in school with critical judgment and wisdom.
But a report published earlier this year by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute — "The Shaping of the American Mind: The Diverging Influences of the College Degree & Civic Learning on Americans Beliefs" — at least suggests something else might be at play. (Full disclosure: I am a visiting fellow at ISI and was involved in writing the report.) ISI surveyed 2,508 Americans, asking them whether they agreed or disagreed with various propositions involving public issues.
The survey showed that smaller percentages of the respondents with master’s and doctorate degrees — as opposed to people with lesser degrees — agreed with the propositions that with hard work and perseverance anyone can succeed in America and that the Bible is the Word of God. On the other hand, larger percentages of the respondents with master’s and doctorate degrees — as opposed to people with lesser degrees — agreed with the propositions that abortion should be available at any stage and for any reason and that same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry.
Perhaps the reason Obama’s approval rating remains strong among people who have done graduate work is that such people are more likely to share Obama’s vision for America.
And now, it seems, Obama could use a nation that has not only more unmarried, unchurched, poor and inexperienced people, but also a nation with more Ph.Ds.