How does education influence behavior

Who chooses is smart? - How educational level influences voter turnout

Deutsche Welle: The less educated someone is, the more likely they are to vote for populists. This belief is widespread. But is that true?

Sabrina Mayer: That is a thesis that many advocate. But if we look at the AfD voters in the federal elections, for example, we cannot necessarily confirm that. The AfD actually has most of its voters from the middle educated classes and not necessarily that many more voters with a secondary school leaving certificate.

People with a higher level of education participate more in politics in Germany - that is, someone with a university degree is more likely to vote and to join a party than people without a school leaving certificate. That is a finding from the new education report that came out today. Does this tendency also apply beyond the Federal Republic?

Yes, we have that not only in Germany, but also in many Western European countries.

Are there any exceptions?

Of course there are countries where there is compulsory voting. [Note d. Editor: in Belgium and Australia, for example.] Of course, significantly more people from all walks of life will vote.

Education Minister Anja Karliczek (center) presented the new education report on Friday

Why is there this connection between education and political participation?

It's complicated. Education is related to many important psychological factors which in turn affect voter turnout and the like. An example of this is the sense of duty to choose. Many people in Germany feel that it is their duty to vote as a good citizen. And those who went to school up to the Abitur, for example, usually have a stronger feeling of compulsory elective than someone who left school earlier because he or she had more lessons - in politics or civics.

But isn't it just the case that you can follow political developments better if you have a higher level of education?

Of course, political education and information play a role. The lower you are educated, the more likely you are to say about politics: I just don't know my way around or that is beyond my abilities.

Which German parties are more likely to have voters with a high level of education and benefit from the fact that uneducated often also means remote from the ballot box?

Of course we have parties that have an extremely large number of highly educated voters. Above all, the Greens are one of them. In the German election study, three quarters of the Greens voters had a high school diploma. And of course there are parties in which the electorate tends to come from a lower level of education. One example of this is the SPD, where every third person has a secondary school certificate.

In Germany, the Greens have a lot of support from people with a university degree, just like the Liberals from the FDP. Is it the same in other countries with similar parties?

Yes, it is precisely the case with the Greens across Europe that they have a high level of support from that part of the population who have a high level of education. Because so-called post-materialistic values ​​- such as environmental protection and political freedoms - are particularly important to this clientele.

Election researcher Sabrina Mayer

What about the electorate on the left in Germany? Her opponents - like the AfD - like to portray her as uneducated.

If you look at the electorate on the left, we actually always have to distinguish between East and West, because the voters are made up very differently. For West Germany we find that left-wing voters actually have an above-average number of high school diplomas. In the east, too, voters on the left are more likely to have an intermediate level than, for example, a secondary school diploma.

We have now touched on all German parties a bit, except for the CDU / CSU. How would you describe the level of education of the Union voters?

The CDU / CSU is very boring here - because it is almost exactly in the average of the population.

What are the distinguishing features of alternate voters?

There is a slight tendency: people who are less educated are more likely to vote for another party. But that is not necessarily directly due to the level of education, but rather has to do with the fact that with lower education one often has less ties to a political party.

Why is political party attachment stronger among people with higher education?

Because this bond is often already conveyed in the parents' home and practically continues over generations. If their parents are very interested in politics, also in party politics, the probability is high that the parents pass this on to their children. Where, on the other hand, when they come from home, where politics does not play a major role and political information is not consumed, they often have no party affiliation.

Sabrina Mayer works as a political scientist and election researcher at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Among other things, she deals with the social identity of party supporters.

The interview was conducted by Mara Bierbach.