The Journal of Politics


Revisiting the Relationship between Educational Attainment and Political Sophistication

Benjamin Hightona1

a1 University of California, Davis


In politics, those who are politically sophisticated are advantaged in a variety of ways relative to those who are not. This paper analyzes the causes of political sophistication paying particular attention to the variable most commonly identified as the primary cause of differences within the mass public, educational attainment. Using panel data first collected before some respondents attended college, I show that there appears to be no significant effect of attending and graduating from college on political awareness. Differences in political sophistication evident after people attend college are already in place before anyone sets foot in a college classroom. Explaining political sophistication therefore requires attention to pre-adult causes. I elaborate an explanation and find that it accounts for a substantial portion of the spurious relationship between education and political sophistication.

(Received May 12 2008)

(Accepted November 25 2008)


Benjamin Highton is associate professor of political science, University of California, Davis, CA 95616.