Are Educational Attainment and Who A State Votes for Related?



There are many assumptions that people make when it comes to predicting how a person will vote. Characteristics like age, gender, and race are all traits that people like to use to predict election outcomes. I decided that I wanted to take a look at educational attainment and how the states voted in the 2012 Presidential Election to see if there was a relationship.

To perform this analysis we found data on the percentage of each states population that has obtained a high school education and the percentage that had a bachelor’s degree or higher. I then took the 2012 election results and isolated the number of votes for President Obama and Governor Romney.When I calculated the percentage of voters that voted for President Obama, I only included the voters that voted for President Obama or Governor Romney. Below you are able to see the results.

Are Educational Attainment and Who A State Votes for Related (High School or Higher)

Are Educational Attainment and Who A State Votes for Related (Bachelor's Degree or Higher)

If you are interested in an interactive version of this visualization you can view it here.


After reviewing the visualizations you can see that there isn’t a statistical relationship between the pecentage of the population that has a high school degree and the presidential candidate the state voted for. Switching the graphic to show the percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher it becomes clear that there is a relationship there. It is important to always preface the finding of a statistically significant relationship with the fact that it does not prove that causation exists.

To begin and attempt to determine the causation of these results, a vast amount of research would have to take place. First you would have to determine which may be causing the other and account for any feedback loop that may be occurring.  Then you could begin to wade through the various theories of why this may.

The reason we believe a relationship does not exist between a high school education and the way a state votes is that a high school education has become a universal value for most people in the country. This would require research as well though before a definitive conclusion could be reached. It is unlikely that this research would ever occur though given the statistical communities interest in statistically significant results.


This visualization is the combination of two data sets. The first is on educational attainment and is data provided by the 2014 American Community Survey. The data can be found at American Fact Finder on table S1501. The one year estimates were used.

The second data source was the results of the 2012 presidential election. The data was originally found on Wikipedia, but the sources were verified. This data found was compiled from a Federal Election Commission report on the 2012 election and revised numbers that were published by individuals states. States that had revisions included New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In calculating the percentage of voters that voted for President Obama, only the voters that voted for President Obama or Governor Romney were included.


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