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revolt of the elites
The Party of the Ivy League

Democratic Congressmen are three times as likely to have attended an Ivy League college as their Republican counterparts, according to a new tally from the Chronicle of Higher Education—a striking shift from the year 2000, when Ivy Leaguers were equally represented in both caucuses.

This might reflect in part the growing Democratic dominance of congressional delegations from the Northeast, where the Ivy League is located. But it also illustrates, in a striking and original way, a broader trend that was discussed at length in the 2016 election cycle: the transformation of the Democrats into a party of the cosmopolitan establishment and the Republicans to the party of populism and nationalism (in tone if not necessarily in practice).

The Chronicle also finds that while Democrats were once more likely than Republicans to have attended public universities (48 to 41 percent in the Congress before the Gingrich revolution), that is no longer the case—Paul Ryan’s Republicans are eight points more likely than Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats to have earned their degree from a publicly-run institution. Although the Democratic Party has grown more vocal about increasing public funding for state universities, is is increasingly selecting candidates who were educated at private schools.

The time horizon for the shift is also noteworthy. The key inflection point seems to have come around the turn of the century. Throughout George W. Bush’s presidency, the educational pedigree of Democratic representatives grew more elite, while the GOP’s grew more modest. The divergence peaked around the time of the Tea Party wave—since the 113th Congress, the Republican share of private school graduates and Ivy Leaguers has ticked back upward.

Should the Democrats worry about becoming the Party of the Ivy League? Having an elite education doesn’t by itself preclude a candidate from winning the trust of working class voters (just look at Donald Trump, who has announced that he attended “the best school in the world,” or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose name is emblazoned on a suite at a Harvard dormitory). But after the Democrats lost an easily-winnable election in part because of an over-reliance on boutique academic liberalism that did not seem to particularly resonate among non-professionals, the party’s Ivy League shift might be seen as a symptom of a broader problem.

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  • Jim__L

    Are there similar numbers for Congressional staffers?

    • Unelected Leader

      I interned for a senator and it was about 50 percent of the staffer as well as interns coming from Georgetown, Northwestern, NYU, Harvard, Cornell, AU, and a few others. The worst part was the corruption. I quickly realized i was in the minority with no money, no connections, and coming from a regular, not well known state school. More than 50 percent of the interns I met got their position because mom worked in the office 10 years ago, or auntie worked in the office next door, and some donors and lobbyists outright inquired about getting their kids internships in the hallways of the Hart building!

      • Jim__L

        Are these the people that actually type up the language of the laws?

        • Unelected Leader

          Those are the ones.

          • Jim__L

            Guess whose assumptions and worldview gets inevitably enshrined in law, to the exclusion of that of the actual population of the country?

          • Unelected Leader

            Well you can give me two guesses but I’ll only need one. I was there in 2012 working for a senator who was on the HELP committee, so of course we were very busy assisting staff with compiling absolutely enormous binders of information and confusing verbiage on the ACA. I was actually standing on the steps of the Supreme Court when the decision came down about the ACA that June. Now that was a real show let me tell you haha oh my.

          • Jim__L

            Do tell. =)

          • Unelected Leader

            Within 30 seconds of news about the decision filtering through the huge crowd there was some jubilation, some crying, some screaming. I saw an NBC guy drop what was probably a $10,000 camera, and two pastors laid flat out on the ground, put their heads on their bibles, and started crying and praying. And some foreign tourists got scared and started running from the crowd.

        • D4x

          My understanding is K Street lobbyists write the complex laws, the staffers read them, not that I want to contradict those who know more than I do about everything.

          • Jim__L

            One of the nice things about this site is the posters here frequently have firsthand professional knowledge of what’s going on. It’s fun to learn what they have to say.

            That said, your comment about lobbyists is certainly conventional wisdom. I’m curious how true it is, and if true, is there any information available about the educational pedigrees of those lobbyists?

      • KremlinKryptonite

        You know, I had a very similar experience to yours when I was an intern for Senator Tom Harkin. And I’m fairly certain that I’m at least a decade older than you based on previous conversations we’ve had

  • Unelected Leader

    No wonder they struggle with math and basic (I mean basic basic) economics. “Ivy league” has not been exempt from losing its luster along with degrees generally, besides a few real programs at least.

    • Jim__L

      Those few real programs tend not to be the ones that Washington types avail themselves of.

      • Unelected Leader

        Exactly, if they had real jobs and were successful in those jobs they wouldn’t have time for that stuff. It’s no small wonder that lawyers who are not particularly successful turn to politics.

  • Fat_Man

    Make them admit students by lottery.

  • FriendlyGoat

    I wouldn’t be much of an advocate of the Ivy League, but it’s certainly arguable that the Congress has been increasingly recalcitrant and dysfunctional—–divorced from EVER speaking the truth out of the GOP Caucus—–since the Gingrich “revolution”. At that time the “party of populism and nationalism (in tone if not necessarily in practice)” stopped having any collective sense and speaking with any real candor. It has never restarted. I don’t blame that on lack of Ivy League graduates, though. I blame it on the GOP Motto: Lying Sells.

  • Would this not imply that Democratic Presidents generally come from wealthier and more affluent family backgrounds than their Republican counterparts, thus sharing closer ties with the American elite?

    • Jim__L

      From known families: Roosevelt, Bush, Bush, Kennedy
      From obscure families: Obama, Clinton, Carter, Nixon, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan
      (Individually famous outside politics — Eisenhower, Reagan)

      I’m not familiar enough with these: Johnson, Ford

      I’m not seeing a pattern.

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