Was Douthat (Kinda, Sorta) Right?

Faint evidence for his class-based argument about Palin’s appeal

Ross Douthat came in for criticism around the Web (including here at CJR) for his Monday column arguing that Sarah Palin’s appeal is rooted not in ideology but in class – specifically, that the soon-to-be former Alaska governor is better liked among less-educated voters, who see her as the embodiment of the “democratic ideal.”

John Sides, a political science professor who blogs at the excellent group site The Monkey Cage, attacked Douthat’s argument on the same grounds we did: the Pew poll he cites doesn’t show much of a difference in support for Palin among those with a college degree and those with a high school degree or less. But Sides later followed up with another post, based on separate data from the American National Election Studies (ANES), which tells a slightly different story.

Which is: Among Republicans and independents, there is no difference in evaluations of Palin among those with different degrees of education. Among Democrats, though, there is a distinction. Basically, no Democrats like Palin. But while Democrats with less than a college degree don’t like her at a fairly ordinary level, those who have completed higher education can’t stand her. (Sides has a handy chart to make all this clear visually.)

Now, this doesn’t come close to getting Douthat off the hook. For one thing, it’s not the evidence he cited in his column – and his interpretation of the evidence he does cite remains so misleading as to be basically inaccurate. For another, the ANES data doesn’t get you anywhere in terms of explaining Palin’s appeal. Even less-educated Democrats don’t, on balance, like Palin. But Douthat’s reasoning was likely rooted in his sense that highly-educated Democrats have a special dislike for Palin (his column was, after all, titled “Palin and Her Enemies.”) And on that count, he may have been right.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.