Anti-Intellectualism and the modern American election

President-elect Donald Trump, accompanied by his wife Melania, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., gestures while walking on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, after meeting. (Molly Riley/AP)

The results of Tuesday’s presidential election showed sharper divides in the American voting population the country has seen in years. According to New York Times exit polls, traditional divides in categories such as race and age repeated themselves, with minorities and younger voters supporting Hillary Clinton and whites and older voters favoring Donald Trump. One of the deepest divisions, however, was seen in the educational level of voters, especially in a group of voters that may have won Donald Trump the presidency – whites without college degrees.

According to the New York Times exit poll, Trump gained slight majorities in voters with some college or no college degree, while Clinton was more popular among graduates and those involved in postgraduate studies. But the most striking revelation was that 67 percent of white voters without a college degree supported Trump, while only 28 percent supported Clinton. Compared to previous years, this divide is massive; according to an NPR report, there was a 39 point gap between the percentage of white voters without a college degree in support of Trump and those in support of Clinton this year, as opposed to an 18 point gap in favor of Mitt Romney in 2012 and a one point gap in favor of Bill Clinton in 1992. While this rightward shift of whites without higher educations in the past few presidential elections is striking, it is not too surprising that Trump managed to secure this voter base on Tuesday.

From the beginning, Trump’s campaign was based on anti-intellectualism. He directed his efforts toward emotional targets, such as anger, fear and intuition. He convinced us that American values were at stake, and made us fear that there were constant threats to our borders by neighboring nations, and even our friends within the United States.

Despite the great illogic of his statements, he made us believe in the “outsider” politician, convincing us that the more qualifications a candidate had, the less qualified they were for the job. He even brought back a new wave of racism and sexism based in emotion and fear and convinced us that it was justified.

With his media coverage and publicity, Trump sensationalized topics that are normally too “intellectual” to be of interest to the average citizen. He even targeted those who had not pursued higher education; in a speech he made shortly after winning the Nevada primary, he stated, “I love the poorly educated,” according to CNN. And we, as voters, ate up his words and let ourselves be led toward hatred, passion and fear.

The emergence of a new wave of politics based on the antithesis of reason, coupled with the divide in college-educated and non-college-educated voters, is a clear indication of the failures of the American education system. But when I say this, I assert that the guilt goes both ways. It is the duty of all American citizens to be informed about political decisions, no matter their level of education. However, the fault also lies with college-educated voters, who, according to a piece from the Washington Post, are arguably out of touch. Higher education is leaning increasingly toward the left, with 60 percent of professors identifying as liberal, and college students can become immersed in a culture that is almost isolated from the lives of those who ended their studies after high school. Where higher educated citizens fail to understand the concerns of working class, uneducated voters is in questions of family values, religion and the government’s role in personal freedoms. These are the deciding factors that appeal to voters’ emotions, which cannot be decided from any collegiate studies.

The United States is at one of its most divisive points in history, and to combat it, we must halt the growing educational gap in our population. All citizens, with a college degree or without, must focus on improving our education system and being more informed, as well as being more aware of the factors that play into the average citizen’s vote. The current political climate is not one of conservatism, or liberalism, but one of anti-intellectualism, which is far more dangerous to both parties. We must reconcile our educational differences if we are to going to be informed enough to choose our leaders and our policies wisely.


Alex Oliveira is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.oliveira@uconn.edu.