Haiti on the brink: The prospects and challenges of the Kenyan-led MSS initiative


Haiti on the brink: The prospects and challenges of the Kenyan-led MSS initiative


Republicans, Democrats Disagree on Factors for Social Mobility

Molly Jackman,
Molly Jackman Former Brookings Expert, Public Policy Research Manager - Facebook
Saul Jackman, and
Saul Jackman Former Brookings Expert, Senior Data Scientist - Netflix
Richard V. Reeves
Reeves headshot
Richard V. Reeves President - American Institute for Boys and Men

December 12, 2013

Earlier, we reported findings from a new survey on the determinants of social mobility.  Most striking was the fact that only a small minority–about 2%–believe preschool education matters most for opportunity later in life. Today we turn to an important pattern masked in those aggregate data: the stark difference in Democrats’ and Republicans’ opinions about what creates social mobility.

Factors for Mobility

Simply, Democrats place a greater emphasis on education and Republicans on family.  The pie charts below show the proportion of Democrats and Republicans who thought that the key to social mobility was:

  • parents and family,
  • education (pre-k, k-12, and college), and
  • jobs.

When asked which of these factors was best able to promote social mobility, the most common response from Democrats was education, while Republicans were most likely to attribute social mobility to parents and family.


College, K-12, or Pre-K?

Delving deeper into the data on education, we find that the distinction between the two parties can really be attributed to one particular portion of education:  college.  Twenty-six percent of Democrats believe that higher education best facilitates mobility, compared to only 16% of Republicans.  An interesting corollary to this pattern is that Democrats and Republicans are surprisingly similar in their views of pre-k and k-12 education.  Indeed, just 18% of both Democrats and Republicans believe that primary education is the key to social mobility.

In his recent speech, President Obama emphasized the importance of education for social mobility.  He said that “higher education may be the surest path to the middle class,” and, of this, his fellow Democrats seem to agree.  But without a solid primary education, children will struggle to reach and succeed in college.  Ensuring that every child learns the basics in pre-k, elementary, and high school is, thus, the first step that the government can take toward facilitating greater mobility across class boundaries.  Unfortunately, to embrace this point, citizens in both parties may require some convincing.