Rockefellers and Goldwaters: The effect of compulsory schooling on voting preferences

Elsevier Ltd

Research into the causal impact of formal education on political beliefs and ultimate voting behavior arrives at contradictory results. While some early work, e.g. Dee (2004) finds education induces more socially-liberal views, more recent works suggests that education makes individuals more fiscally conservative. We use quasi-experimental variation in schooling created by compulsory schooling laws (CSLs) to reconcile these results. Following Marshall (2019), we first examine a pooled sample of voter and find that policy-induced increases in education lead to voters being more likely to identify as, and vote for, Republican candidates, largely due to concerns regarding taxes. Delving further into this result, however, we find highly heterogeneous impacts of education, which depend on the efficacy of CSLs. In particular, in states where CSLs significantly increased educational attainment, impacted individuals become more fiscally conservative, but also exhibit greater support for traditional Democratic social issues like abortion rights and environmental protection, creating so-called “Rockefeller” Republicans. By contrast, voters educated in states where CSLs have no measured impact on educational attainment exhibit generally more conservative attitudes toward non-economics and social issues, which are traits that are consistent with so-called “Goldwater” Republicans.

Co-Authors: Philip DeCicca, Harry Krashinsky, Erik Nesson