Educated to Democratize? Education and Elite Support for Universal Suffrage

Magnus Rasmussen, University of Oslo
Sirianne Dahlum, University of Oslo

Is education linked to democratization? In this paper we further develop and test a modification of modernization theory. We focus on university education of elites and their likelihood to support universal suffrage. We argue that secular higher university education, especially when associated with abstract thinking, is likely to foster a universal conception of human rights. This in turn nurtures support for equality of voting rights for all classes and genders. We should therefore expect MPs with higher education to be supporters of democratization and the equality of rights. We combine highly precise data on elite education with data on revealed preferences for universal suffrage. First, 68 constitutional proposals to introduce universal suffrage. Second, 29 Roll Call Votes for universal suffrage in Norway from 1883 to the adoption gender neutral universal suffrage in 1913, over 2000 observations. Our results indicate that, for Elites, education is associated with proposing or voting for universal suffrage reforms. However, only secular university education is associated with voting for universal suffrage. Patterns are more pronounced for gender neutral universal suffrage votes. These results are robust to accounting for roll-call fixed effects, socialization environment, fathers’ class, party-identification and become more pronounced when accounting for election district fixed effects. Among sub-groups of university educated, realist (mathematics and natural sciences) and to a lesser degree, medical doctors are more likely to vote pro-suffrage. Lawyers are only significantly associated with gender-neutral suffrage extensions. Theologians tend to vote against extensions, especially gender-neutral extensions. Focusing on the largest Elite party, the Liberals, which held the key to universal suffrage, we document that university education was a powerful predictor of Liberal support for suffrage extensions.

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 Presented in Session 150. Democratization, democratic ideology