Three progressive positions that don’t benefit from popular education

It is a common refrain on both the left and right of the political spectrum:

If only people knew more about the issue, they would agree with my position.

The left side of the political spectrum – let’s call ourselves “progressives” – is no worse than the right when it comes to this (see: Libertarians, and Tea Party conspiracy theorists), but we aren’t any better, really.

And in some cases we are just clearly wrong. Sometimes increased knowledge about the specific subject does not translate into increased support for the progressive position. In other cases, more educated Americans are less likely to support the so-called progressive position.

Global Warming: In terms of general education level, Americans with a high school education (or less) are most worried about global warming, and in terms of specific knowledge about climate change, Nature reported:

Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change.

In fact, it turns out that among those who know the most, there was quite a bit of polarization, perhaps driven by a desire among skeptics to educate themselves enough to answer the arguments of opponents.

So improving education is not a clear path to garnering more support for the progressive belief that more action is needed to address climate change.

Racial Profiling: A number of research experiments now suggest that white Americans are more likely to support certain policies – either in police tactics or sentencing guidelines – if they are given the facts of how these policies result in disproportionate levels of incarceration for African Americans.

This is not the result civil rights activists are hoping for when they attempt to educate the public about the pernicious effects to stop-and-frisk and mandatory sentencing guidelines. It appears to be a variation of the naturalistic fallacy – as if telling white Americans that a lot of African Americans are in jail reinforces a belief among many white Americans that a lot of African Americans ought to be in jail.

American support for Israel: Many left-leaning American critics of Israel believe that the only informed opinion is one of critical opposition to Israeli military actions and an end to U.S. support for Israel. But like anti-Semitism, opposition to Israel’s recent military action is negative correlated with education. Essentially, those with a high school education or less were most likely to view Israel’s actions in the current Middle East conflict as “unjustified,” while those with a post-graduate degree were most likely to view these same actions as “justified.” It is also true that Americans who pay a lot of attention to the conflict are more likely to support Israeli military actions.

It is worth noting that some progressive positions do benefit from greater overall education. There is a strong correlations between general level of education and belief that evolution ought to be taught in schools.


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