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Age or Education?

Topics: 2008 , Barack Obama , CBS , Exit Polls , Gary Langer , Hillary Clinton , Kathy Frankovic , National Journal

Amidst the personal craziness last week, I neglected to link to two columns from network pollsters that provide some valuable data from the exit polls on the Obama-Clinton race tabulated by race, education and income. Interest in this issue peaked last week after Barack Obama, said the following after his loss in the Pennsylvania primary:

I have to say if you look at and I know my staff has talked about this: If you look at the numbers, in fact, our problem has less to do with white working class voters. In fact, the problem is that, to the extent there is a problem, is that the older voters are very loyal to Senator Clinton.

ABC's polling director Gary Langer combined data from exit polls to look at support for the two candidates among white voters by age and income. "Age clearly is a factor," he concludes, "but it’s equally clear that socioeconomic status, as measured by the education and income alike, is independently a factor, and a big one."

Langer's column has tables with all the data. To make the patterns easier to see, I created two charts I created using only the percentage supporting Obama.


04-30_income_age.jpg

Here is Langer's analysis:

Look just at seniors, for instance: Across all primaries to date, among less well-off white seniors (those with less than $50,000 in household incomes), Clinton has beaten Obama by 70-22 percent. Among white seniors with more than $100,000 in household incomes, by contrast, Obama’s actually run ahead, by 50-45 percent.

Put another way, Obama’s support from high-income white seniors has been 28 points higher than it’s been among working-class white seniors. That isn’t just a senior problem. [...]

The relationship is weakest in Obama’s best age group, under 30s, but it’s still there. He’s won under-30 whites in $100,000+ households by 65-33 percent; he’s won young whites in under-$50,000 households by a much closer 53-42 percent.



04-30_white-income-age.jpg

The results are similar by education – Obama does 21 points better with white seniors who’ve earned college degrees than with those who haven’t. College-educated white seniors have favored Clinton by just 8 points, 50-42 percent; those without degrees have backed her by a whopping 48 points, 69-21 percent.

Kathy Frankovic, polling director at CBS News, looks at the same exit polling data (or presumably the same -- she explained that she combined exit polls "weighted to total votes...excluding Florida and Michigan") and adds a little more granularity for the youngest voters:

Among white voters with a college degree, Obama and Clinton have run almost even so far this year - 49 percent for Obama, 47 percent for Clinton. The results are very different by age within this group - those under 45 have given Obama a lead, and those over 45 have chosen Clinton. This does seem to support Obama’s claim that older, better-educated Democratic voters are staying with what they know, keeping on “track.”

White voters without a college degree, however, vote differently. This year, they have voted for Clinton over Obama by almost two-to-one - 61 percent to 33 percent. And the age of the voter matters less. Clinton leads decisively with just about all age groups of these voters - as long as they are over 30. She even edged Obama, 48 percent to 47 percent, among non-degreed voters under 30, but over 24 years old. Only the white non-college graduates younger than 25 have favored Obama so far this primary season. They voted for him 59 percent to 38 percent.

Frankovic's column also draws on an innovative survey released last week conducted among college students in Pennsylvania in partnership with the website Uwire (another survey I neglected to link to last week). College students have always been notoriously difficult to survey, and the ubiquity of cell phones among students has made it even worse. In this case, CBS sampled and interviewed students online using email lists of all students, presumably obtained directly from the universities. The full results from CBS include more methodological details.

For those of us that have been following trends in the Obama-Clinton contest by race, education and income, these two columns from Langer and Frankovic are invaluable. Both are worth reading in full. Also, be on the lookout for analysis of this data and more by my colleague Ron Brownstein in National Journal on Friday.

 

Comments
RS:

Mark:
Both charts are the same - age and education. Should one be age and income?

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Mark Blumenthal:

RS:

Doh! You're right. Should be repaired now. Sorry about that.

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Ciccina:

I keep waiting for somebody, anybody to look at gender, both with regard to candidate preference and turnout. I'm particularly curious about what's going on with male voters vis a vis Hillary. I haven't seen anything post Pennsylvania.

Well, a girl can dream...

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distantobserver:

'Never trust numbers you can't reproduce.' This is the faith from which I start...

And I simply can't reproduce either of Langer's or Frankovic's calculations. The published exit polls are what I can access, and those don't detail age by either socio-economic status or education.

There are mainly two ways of arriving at such conclusions then, one being ecological inference which is highly treacherous ground. Depending on methodology you'd be able to arrive at absurd conclusions like more than 100% of a certain subgroup of the population having voted for a particular candidate. An example given by Harvard's Gary King in his excellent book on the issue:

Unfortunately, even the best available current methods of ecological inference are often wildly inaccurate. For example, at the federal trial in Ohio (and in formal sworn deposition and in a prepared report), the expert witness testifying for the plaintiffs reported that 109.63% of blacks voted for the Democratic candidate in District 42 in 1990! He also reported in a separate, but obviously related, statement that a negative number of blacks voted for the Republican candidate.

The other would be to access the raw data of the exit polls which aren't that raw anymore. They're weighted to fit the actual result, a procedure highly comparable to ecological inference: In many cells of a multi-dimensional matrix the numbers are too small to allow for any siginificant generalization, so weighting is usually done separately for one or two dimensions, thus assuming that 'all else is equal', the same thing the 'expert witness' in Ohio did assume - Ass-U-Me.

My bottom line is this: Though it would be very interesting to have an answer to these questions, what we know doesn't allow us more than guesses. Langer and Frankovic may - probably will - have data that really supports their arguments. Well, let them publish their numbers and the methods they applied. Until then I remain very sceptical.

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