In December 2013, a Gallup News Service Poll asked "How important is a college education today -- very important, fairly important, or not too important?" 69% said very important, 24% fairly important, and 7% said not important. While idly looking at a few crosstabulations, I noticed that there were differences by party: among Democrats, it was 78%-19%-2%; among Republicans, 62%, 28%, and 9%. Looking at other political questions, a definite pattern appeared. For example, there were questions about whether you had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Barack Obama, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Tea Party movement
Percent with favorable opinion of
Obama Democrats Republicans Tea Party
Very important 51 44 32 28
Fairly important 37 30 33 37
not too important 16 13 31 55
People who thought education was less important were considerably less favorable towards Obama and the Democratic Party, and more favorable to the Tea Party movement, but not to the Republican Party.
There were also questions about whether people were satisfied with how things were going in the country and in their personal lives. 22% of the people who said very important, 20% of those who said fairly important, and 3% (yes, 3%) of those who said not too important were satisfied with how things were going in the country. With personal life, they distinguished degrees of satisfaction, and the results were :
Very Satisfied Somewhat satisfied S. dissatisfied V. dissatisfied
Very Important 54% 28% 6% 11%
Fairly important 50% 31% 5% 13%
Not too important 26% 44% 18% 12%
So people who think that college is less important tend to be disgruntled conservatives--they don't like the Democrats, but aren't especially keen on the Republicans, and think that things in general are going badly. The one thing that they like is the outside political movement--the Tea Party.
This is starting to sound like the standard image of Trump voters, and in fact demographically there are parallels with Trump supporters--less educated, mostly men, and more likely to be white. (There was no clear difference by income). So something interesting is going on. If the question asked about how important education should be, I could offer an explanation for a connection: people who resented the importance of educational credentials, and thought that willingness to work hard or practical experience should be more important would be dissatisfied and attracted to a populist movement like the Tea Party. But it asks about how important education is, which seems more neutral. Maybe some people are answering in terms of "ought" rather than "is," despite the wording. But a few years ago, I noted that people who said that hard work or saving and spending decisions were the most important factors for getting ahead were more conservative than people who said education was most important. That suggests that views of the way that things actually work makes a difference.
[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]