Saturday, 31 December 2011

On the correlation between conservatism and education

I was in a fairly regular Twitter conversation with Vijay Vijayasankar (meaning: anything goes) and it happened again: right in between the bartalk, something clever was born. See the dialogue above please, top-down, transscribed here:
@vijayasankarv The abundance of ignorance and misinformation among Americans, especially conservative ones, is staggering

@MartijnLinssen not sure if that is a problem with just conservatives..ppl think in extremes on both sides I think

@vijayasankarv I guess so. It's just that conservatism and lack of education is highly correlated - throughout the world

@vijayasankarv Having said that... if there *is* a correlation, that means conservative parties/govs must do their best to cripple education

@MartijnLinssen that is an interesting hypothesis

I never thought about that, or it - but this hit me like a truck. A piece of the puzzle for me.
If true -if true!- then there must be a correlation between conservative countries, and level of education. Maybe not elementary school, but higher education for sure: I'll consider any education followed after elementary school to be "higher"
Of course, there must also be a certain threshold to education for each country: the more conservative the (current?) government, the higher this threshold. It will be formed on the very basis of what we've assumed to be the most basic rules: time and space
Education will thus either be limited in space (low number of education places, or small amount of students to be admitted) or time (chances to get the education you want are once-in-a-lifetime, or educations span long periods).And then, there's the basic influencer of all: money. Money can make education scarce, abundant, and anything in between

So, here's the hypothesis: where (higher) educations are relatively small in numbers, length in years, expensive or all of the above, governments will be conservative, given the last few decades, and do their best to make education less valuable, less attractive, and scarcer and more expensive
Scary? I think so. If there is a correlation between lack of education and conservative governments, then that must mean those governments will certainly not allow education to be improved. On the contrary, it must be kept at the current level, otherwise it simply endangers future governments

When we go to the marvellous wikipedia, there are a few entry points:

  • The Education Economics page is inconclusive and too short to be of much help
  • There's the Education Index that gives just about every country in the world a number: Scandinavia and Northern Europe are in the very top, and USA is no. 20 but Japan is no. 34. However, looking at the very bottom of the list, I get the feeling that "it is generally in line with my thinking". Although poverty and (civil) unrest seems closely related to the list set-up, as is religion
  • An overview of School Leaving Age seems to be fabricated (have a look at the map, compared to the table) so isn't very helpful either
  • Worldwide conservatism gives a list of political parties per continent. And here we run into the definition issues: what is conservative, actually?

You can eat your heart out at the Conservatism topic - but I'll settle for continental conservatism, and especially where they don't support separation between Church and State, yet heavily focus on patriotism and nationalism. Yes, very much like the US GOP

So, nothing concrete there, alas.
One last attempt: I'll look at US states in particular, and see if I can derive some data there - otherwise I'll call it an interesting hypothesis, like Vijay, and hope that someone else might have a go at proving it either wrong, right, or anything in between

The US Education page is very helpful. Especially the cost part, with a graph illustrating the increase in tuition. With public higher education costing 20,000 dollars a year, and a private one twice as much, and the dramatic increase since 1980, it is largely due to decreasing state support that the cost of education has exploded this much:

Looking at the graph, you can see when the Republican governments were interrupted by Clinton in 1993-2001, can't you? Nice correlation, but I was actually looking for something like state-based level of education versus political preference as shown in e.g. voting behaviour

The Digest of Education Services has a neat one on that right here - it shows direct general expenditures per capita of state and local governments for all functions and for education. It's way too large to include here so I manipulated part of it. Let's compare that to the US 2008 general election outcome (sorted on Obama % margin, the last column).
I sorted the expenditure, ranked the states, then sorted the election states by percentage in favour of Obama, and ranked them. Then, I compared the ranks, and percentualised them (sorry if this hurts your head, let me explain)

Ideally, in this example, New York which ranks as 48 on expenditure (almost top of the line in education spending) is among the least conservative at exact same position, thus also ranks 48 there.
It doesn't, it ranks 47. So that gives them 1 point difference: on a scale of 52 states, that is 2% difference

Treating all the states the same, I ignored positive and negative difference. So in the end there is a difference of minimum 0%, and maximum 100% (e.g. state with lowest expenditure has highest Obama positive margin, in case of 100% difference).
For an easy overview, I applied a three-colour scale there that uses green for anything from 0% and up, orange for 50% difference, and red for the full 100%. Here is the astonishing result (take the state at the left, and look at the colour at the right):

Looks very green-ish, doesn't it? 2 Deep red exceptions there, Alaska (Palin's turf, so okay) and Wyoming (Dick Cheney's turf, so okay). Louisiana? Apparently Obama didn't take it seriously - all news organisations predicted it would go GOP anyway

Having said that, is this a clear indication of a serious relationship between (lack of) education and conservatism? Aye, I'd say

While I've failed to show a worldwide correlation between (lack of) education and conservatism, I think I absolutely nailed it when it comes to the United States.
So, dear GOP: keep them voters dumb, trash education any which way you can, and you're guaranteed to reign?

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