Half Sigma sees the cultural populism of 'themes' like Joe the Plumber and the choice of Sarah Palin as VP as bad for the Republican party because it is turning the most intelligent voters against the GOP. He has argued that smarter states are flipping to the Democratic party because of this.
The latter assertion appeared to me to be the case, but only because many of the more educated red states have been more competitive than the least educated red states (essentially the South) have been for decades. Eyeballing the results, it didn't jump out at me that the more educated or intelligent* states shifted in Obama's favor more than the less educated or intelligent states did.
Analyzing the numbers affirms as much about intelligent states. A state's estimated average IQ and its shift in Presidential voting from '04 to '08 are unrelated (p=.63).
However, there is a moderate correlation of .27 (p=.06) between a state's educational attainment as measured by this index and its shift in voting from '04 to '08. More educated states like Montana and Colorado didn't just shift leftward in tandem with the rest of the county this election cycle, they're doing so at a greater clip than less educated states like Mississippi and West Virginia are. The variances are modest, but in aggregate they're real. Whether this is due to the leftist environment at most colleges, the delaying effect it has on people starting families, or something else, this is concerning.
What about national exit polling? Half Sigma also argues the Republican party is losing support among the wealthiest and most educated voters. Previously, I've tracked average income and educational attainment for voters based on exit polling data for elections in '06, '04, '00, and '96. Using the same methodology**, here's how it shakes out this time around (income, educational index score):
McCain's supporters -- $86,000; 49.0
Obama's supporters -- $77,000; 50.0
In '04, Bush supporters averaged $73,000 and 43.2, while Kerry's averaged $62,000 and 48.4. McCain's educational improvement isn't from an increase in college graduate support, but from a drastic decline in support among high school dropouts (probably attributable to lots of blacks coming out to vote for Obama) as well as a drop in support among high school graduates who've never attended college.
The Democrats clearly narrowed the income gap this time around. Republican voters in '04 had an estimated 18% income edge over Democrats. But this year, the McCain voter's average income is only 11% higher than the Obama voter's average income. This in spite of the fact that blacks represented the biggest proportional increase among racial groups in voters this election cycle compared to last. Ceteris paribus, the black uptick should accentuate the gap, yet it still narrowed. Further, as explained below, I counted the $200,000 or more income category as $250,000 (for the other income ranges, I simply choose the middle dollar amount). Bush cleaned Kerry's clock by nearly two-to-one among these voters, but Obama won them 52%-46%.
* Using an educational attainment index computed using the percentage of a state's population that has a graduate degree, a bachelor's degree, and has not completed high school as a measure of education, and NAEP scores for 8th graders in math and science to estimate IQ, a state's level of education and its average intelligence proxy fairly well for one another, but they are not the same. They correlate at .59 (p=0), indicating that a little more than one-third of educational attainment can be determined by estimated IQ alone, and viceversa.
** I took the middle value of the income range category, determined what percentage of each party's total vote it represented, did this for each income category, and then came up with a mean income (rounded to the nearest thousand) accordingly. For "under $15,000", I used $7,500. For the highest income range, I used 125% of the minimum value (ie, for "$200,000 or more" I used $250,000).