The blue state-red state IQ hoax with which so many millions of disappointed Democrats have consoled themselves since the election can seem initially plausible. Blue states tend to have more prestigious universities, famous research centers, and sophisticated cities than red states.
But in reality, as I've shown, there is little overall difference between the average educational attainments between Democrats and Republicans.
Democrats, however, tend to be more inegalitarian, with higher highs and lower lows than the more middling Republicans.
This is clearly visible in the biggest blue state of them all, California.
Census Bureau figures show that California, traditionally America's trendsetter, is pioneering a new kind of class structure—ominously like that of highly unequal Latin American countries like Brazil or Mexico.
California, long viewed as the promised land of the American middle class, is slowly developing a novel U-shaped social system. Relatively large numbers of both the well-educated and the badly-educated are sandwiching a shrinking middle.
This trend toward greater inequality might seem at odds with the ideals of the Democratic Party. But, in fact, it could bode well for them. The party is ceasing to represent blue collar workers. Instead, it has morphed into an alliance between the elite and the underclass.
According to a Census Bureau Supplementary Survey of 700,000 households across the country, California boasts 2 million recipients of graduate degrees (master's or Ph.D. or professional diplomas such as M.D. or J.D.).
Yet this sophisticated state also is home to 2.2 million adults who never even attended high school. Their ranks were up 7 percent during the 1990s. By contrast, in the rest of America, the number of adults who had never seen the inside of a high school dropped by 30 percent over that decade.
The Golden State is now one of only three states with above average percentages both of people who never got past elementary school and of holders of graduate degrees. (The other two are New Mexico and Rhode Island.) In California, 10.7 percent of grownups have no more than elementary schooling, compared to only 6.4 percent in the other 49 states.
Of all the states in the Union, California now has the lowest percentage of its population with a midlevel education consisting of at least a high school diploma or some college, but not a bachelor's degree from a four-year college.
Silicon Valley and other technology centers attract the highly educated from Asia and across America. More surprisingly, a prestigious degree is now often expected in Hollywood. A veteran sitcom writer who worked for years on Married with Children complained privately about the "Harvard mafia" that she feels increasingly has controlled TV joke writing ever since the Harvard Lampoon-laden screenwriting staff of "The Simpsons" emerged in 1990.
These upper-middle-class newcomers tend to be liberal, especially on cultural issues.
In contrast, Mexican immigrants supply much of California's huge number of less-educated people. According to a 2000 Census Bureau survey, 65 percent of America's Mexican immigrants never finished high school versus only 9.6 percent of natives.
And, according to the NEP exit poll, in 2004 California's Hispanics gave only 32 percent of their votes to Bush.
As immigrants move into California, native-born Americans move out. From 1990 to 1999, according to University of Michigan demographer William H. Frey, 2.2 million more California residents moved to other states than other Americans moved to California.
Frey, who is also with the Brookings Institution, pointed out:
"Another cause of the rise of the California Democrats is selective out-migration of the more rock-ribbed Republicans. The folks who have been leaving California's suburbs for other states have the white, middle-class demographic profiles of Republican voters. California's middle-class families are being squeezed out by real estate prices. And Republicans are heading for whiter states where they won't have to pay taxes for so many social programs for the poor."
California's "education gap" also shows up in income statistics. In California, 6.8 percent of all households make more than $150,000 per year versus 4.1 percent elsewhere.
In contrast, 14 percent of California households are poor compared to only 12.3 percent of households in the other 49 states.
And this measure actually underestimates California's poverty problem, because the federal government uses the same poverty level nationwide, despite California's higher cost of living. For example, the state's median rent is 30 percent greater than elsewhere.
What's at work in New Mexico and Rhode Island—the other two states that are above average in both graduate degrees and adults who've never been to high school?
Ever since the Manhattan Project built the atomic bomb during World War II, New Mexico has had a social chasm, with Los Alamos physicists and Santa Fe glitterati on one side, and poor Mexican-Americans and American Indians on the other.
Rhode Island is demographically split between the workers in New England's intellectual-industrial complex and the state's many blue-collar immigrants from the Portuguese-speaking world, most notably the very poor Cape Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa.
The evidence from recent elections suggests that inequality might be good for the Democratic Party.
George W. Bush lost decisively both times in California, the state that bequeathed Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to the Republican Party. In 2004, John Kerry won a solid ten point victory over George W. Bush.
Bush hasn't reached 40 percent of the vote in Rhode Island in two tries.
After losing New Mexico by a hair in 2000, he won a single point victory there this year. Still, Bush finished below 50 percent in New Mexico this year, while be broke 70 percent in nearby, but much more egalitarian Utah.
Traditionally, Democrats have done best with the educational extremes. The exit poll in 2000 showed Gore carrying the educational extremes. Nationally, the former vice president won 59 percent to 39 percent among voters without high school degrees. Similarly, he beat Bush 52 percent to 44 percent among those with postgraduate degrees. In contrast, Bush carried the middle. He beat Gore 49 percent to 48 percent among high school graduates and 51 percent to 45 percent among both those with only some college and those with a bachelor's degree.
In the 2004 election, according to the NEP exit poll, Bush won a solid 53 percent of everyone falling into the high school graduate, some college, or college graduate categories, while getting only 44 percent of those claiming to have some postgraduate studies.
One difference from 2000 is that Bush's share of the high school dropouts was up to 49 percent (insert cynical joke about Bush's appeal to the easily confused).
Strikingly, the percentage of residents with graduate degrees proved one of the strongest predictors of whether a state would vote Republican or Democrat. Gore won only three of the 25 states with the fewest graduate degree holders. He won 17 of the 25 states with the most graduate degree holders.
Utah, the destination of so many disgruntled ex-Californians, is emerging as the anti-California. It leads the country with only 2.4 percent of its residents never having attended high school.
Paradoxically, this staunchly Republican state, where Bush won 71 percent in 2004, exemplifies some of the supposed egalitarian ideals of the Democratic Party. A 2000 study by the Economic Policy Institute found Utah to have the most equal income distribution of any state.
Still, Utah is more likely to be the anomaly and California the harbinger of the United States' future.
Quite why the Republicans are supporting this transformation is another matter.