CLEVELAND — Education made America great.
Now it’s at the epicenter of a divide that’s ripping us apart.
When we round up the usual suspects to help explain the most divisive presidential election since 1800, the list is likely to focus on income, class, race, geography and gender.
But the mother of all fault lines, and by far the easiest to quantify with irrefutable evidence, is education.
In a campaign where the polls and pundits (myself included) got almost everything wrong, the one thing they got consistently correct about Election 2016 was that Donald Trump’s nationalistic economic message — complete with its unmistakable overtones of violence and hate — would play far better with undereducated voters than those with college degrees.
So, recounts and Hillary Clinton’s two-million-plus popular vote win notwithstanding, Trump gets to be president.
And no statistics help explain how that happened Nov. 8 better than those that measure educational attainment. A detailed summary of those statistics, which rely on 2015 Census estimates, can be found at statisticalatlas.com.
But here is a chart of how state-by-state educational attainment correlates with 2016 presidential outcomes, courtesy of cleveland.com data analyst Rich Exner:
The findings, while disturbing, aren’t the least bit surprising.
Nineteen of the 50 states rank above the national average of 28.8 percent in residents age 25 or older with at least a bachelor’s degree.
Of those 19 states, Clinton carried 17. Her electoral vote margin over Trump in those 19 states was 215-12.
Trump won states totaling 306 electoral votes. Of those, 294 came from states with educational levels below the national average.
Seventeen states rank above the national average in number of residents with advanced degrees – like a master’s, Ph.D., medical or law degree.
Clinton carried all of those states. Her electoral vote win in those highly educated places was 216-0.
Ohio, which will never be mistaken as a state with a highly educated population, ranks 37th on the bachelor’s degree list and 33rd in the percentage of adults with an advanced degree.
These numbers suggest a direct relationship between Ohio’s dismal educational-attainment standing and Trump’s big win in Ohio.
Education isn’t the only reason Trump won Ohio, but it’s the reason easiest to document. So no need to send me yet another pile of vile emails, complete with all the horrible grammar, misspellings and very naughty words.
Related view: Garrison Keillor also impressed by correspondents’ profanity, posits God’s will
Many blindly loyal followers in bright red places like Ohio would explain they embraced Trump’s candidacy as a way of sending a message to the “elitists” who run the government and many of the nation’s institutions.
Wonder what they think now, as their candidate stockpiles his Cabinet and top White House jobs with the same “elitist” billionaires and Ivy League graduates Trump’s blindly loyal acolytes believed they were running out of Washington?
The elitist argument was always a laughable cover for any number of intolerances.
Nevertheless, the failure of Democrats and the Clinton campaign to connect with these disaffected, blue-collar voters was, in hindsight, an epic political blunder. And it’s no guarantee Democrats can win them back — even when it becomes clear Trump will be unable to deliver on a huge majority of his campaign promises.
Meanwhile, Ohio has now turned so red, it’s in danger of losing its swing state status.
And a major reason that’s happening is the lack of an educated workforce so desperately needed to compete in a 21st-century, knowledge-based economy.
Gov. John Kasich surely knows this. And he has proactively, albeit inconsistently, advocated policies aimed at improving Ohio’s educational standing.
But Kasich’s obsession with cutting taxes deprives the state of the funds needed to make massive investments in quality preschool and targeted investments in underachieving schools.
Gov. John Kasich warns money will be tight in next budget
Nearly a third of Ohio’s high school juniors are in danger of not meeting new state education standards required to graduate.
And Ohio is saddled with the damaging reputation as home to some of the worst charter schools in the country.
Worse yet, none of this seems to bother Ohio’s legislative leaders, whose breathtaking incompetence and corruption prevent them from angering their campaign contributors by making the tough decisions needed to improve the state’s educational standing.
The Republican-run legislature’s idea of building a better Ohio is to make sure everyone walks around with a loaded gun and lives in a state where educational attainment is never a priority, always an afterthought.
Concealed handguns should not be allowed on Ohio’s college campuses: editorial
As Nov. 8 proved, the plan’s working perfectly.
Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer’s editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.
To reach Brent Larkin: firstname.lastname@example.org
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