There is no prerequisite for education when one aspires to become a politician. Unlike for many other jobs, politicians do not need to follow a specific career path to reach powerful positions, nor do they ever need to prove their political knowledge. The fact that, additionally, political education is not the preliminary election criteria for voters, being overshadowed by charisma, communication skills and representation in social media, might lead to the empowering of people with a lack of political knowledge.
In Germany, 80 percent of politicians in the national parliament hold some kind of university degree. In the US House of Representatives, 90% of members hold a university degree. Worldwide, in 2018, the percentage of country leaders with university education was 83%. However, this still means that 17% of leading politicians did not have an academic education. Additionally, the kind of degrees politicians study are often unrelated to political sciences, ranging from arts and humanities to math and science. These unrelated degrees in fact make up the educational background for more than half of the world-leading politicians. 17% of politicians without formal education might not sound like a high number, but considering the number of politicians that studied subjects unrelated to politics, it all points towards an important issue: politicians do not need any political education, and it is in theory even possible to become a leader of a country without one.
For many intellectual jobs you need some kind of education in the corresponding field. Nevertheless, if you want to become a politician, there is no clear route or career path that you have to take, and there is no obligatory education required as a prerequisite. There are no rules or regulations anywhere on how the education of a politician should look like. Politicians often come to power through joining political groups and parties at a young age. In some countries, they gain power because their family history is in politics, and in others because they have the money to afford to run a large political campaign. This is not necessarily a bad thing if it comes alongside profound political knowledge and education. The latter is, however, usually not considered much by voters, resulting in the existence of a problem on two different levels: 1. There are no laws in any country that prevent uneducated citizens from becoming politicians and 2. Political knowledge and expertise are not the primary reasons for voters to support a politician.
Politicians are elected frequently not because of their qualifications, but because of their charisma and their success interacting with people. Their political plans and aspirations might also play a role, but it is undeniable and proven that the character of party leaders influences the decisions of voters to a high extent (1). Especially lately, with the rise of social media as a powerful tool in political campaigning, politicians are trying to mobilize voters by showing them that they are social and therefore belong to the broad masses of people and not to the political elite. Even the many politicians that do have specialized education hardly ever campaign using it. Most likely, because that is not what voters are interested in.
Of course, communication remains a crucial political skill, in order to present their country effectively and maintain good relationships. Dedication to their nation and its people as well as honesty are attributes that might not be gained by education. Additionally, the charisma of a politician might enable him or her to be appreciated by broad masses of people in the first place. These attributes should, though, only be additional skills, as the main skill of a politician in my opinion stills needs to be taking educated and smart political decisions. I believe that voters should appreciate the political and higher education of politicians more greatly, so we can make sure they will take profound decisions appropriately in the future.
A university degree does not of course necessarily reflect profound political knowledge. Holding a degree in the arts or chemistry might not help with taking smart political decisions, but it indeed can be of help in specific areas of politics. Additionally, it has been shown that longer education generally does raise intelligence and increases cognitive abilities (2). Although intelligence and cognitive abilities might make a better politician, it might still not be enough to guarantee profound political knowledge. To prevent the empowerment of ignorant people, countries could implement laws that require politicians to have at least a minimum of education in political sciences. Another option could be to put obligatory political science courses for politicians into practice before they take up important positions. Implementing such criteria could prevent uneducated people from reaching powerful positions, increase the competence of politicians with degrees that are unrelated to political sciences, and could possibly increase the overall quality of political actions.
Nevertheless, it might also be good to reflect on one’s personal voting decisions and their driving forces from time to time. We would not let a teacher without qualifications educate our children. We would not let a physician without a medical degree perform surgery on us. But we would let people without certified political knowledge lead our country?
- Benjamin DJ & Shapiro JM, “Thin-Slice Forecasts of Gubernatorial Elections”, The Review of Economics and Statistics, 2009
- Ritchie SJ & Tucker-Drob EM, “How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis”, Psychological science, 2018