Demographic gaps between parties widen

Demographic gaps between parties widen
© Greg Nash

The Democratic Party is building a coalition of women, the well-educated and younger voters ahead of this year’s midterm elections, while Republicans flex their advantage among men, whites and those who do not have a college degree. 

Those gaps, exacerbated by strong feelings for and against President TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race MORE, have never been wider, according to a new analysis of more than 10,000 interviews conducted by the Pew Research Center over the course of the last year. 


“The gender gap is as wide as we’ve seen in the last two decades. The education gap is wider than it’s ever been. And you see a generation gap that’s growing,” said Carroll Doherty, the center’s director of political research. 

Fifty-six percent of women who are registered to vote say they are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, compared with just 37 percent who say they are Republican or lean toward the GOP. That’s higher than at almost any point since 1992, the famous “Year of the Woman.” 

Republicans have only a 4-point edge among male voters, 48 percent to 44 percent. The gap among women has grown since Trump’s inauguration, while the gap among men has stayed about the same. 

Among college-educated voters, 58 percent say they lean toward Democrats, while just 36 percent are with the GOP. That’s the highest gap since Pew started asking the question a quarter century ago. 

At the same time, Republicans have grown their share among voters without a college degree. Forty-seven percent of those voters now side with the GOP, up from 42 percent during the 2014 midterms. 

Trump took 51 percent of the non-college vote in the 2016 election, according to exit polls, while Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE won 52 percent of the vote among those with a college degree. While voters without a college degree make up about two-thirds of the total electorate, they made up only half of those who turned out to vote in 2016. 

Even a 53 percent majority of white college graduates — a cohort that gave Trump a 4-point edge in 2016 — say they back Democrats, while just 42 percent back Republicans. 

Voters with a high school diploma or less strongly favor Republicans, by a 58 percent to 35 percent margin. And voters who attended college but did not attain a degree back Republicans by a 16-point margin, 55 percent to 39 percent. 

Perhaps most worrying for Republicans plotting their strategy ahead of the November’s midterm elections, a generational divide among younger voters strongly benefits Democrats. 

Fifty-nine percent of millennial voters — those born between 1981 and 1996 — back Democrats by a 27 percent margin. That is by far the highest partisan gap among any generation in the electorate today: members of Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1980, back Democrats by just a four-point edge. Baby boomers are virtually split, with 48 percent backing Democrats and 46 percent favoring the GOP. And members of the silent generation, those born from 1928 to the end of World War II, back Republicans by a nine-point margin, 52 percent to 43 percent. 

That should scare Republicans, because millennials are the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. As those voters age, they become more likely to show up to cast a ballot. 

“The millennials are aging, and as they age, does the turnout start to increase significantly as they age into the population?” Doherty, of Pew, said.

Democrats’ advantage among millennials is driven both by changing attitudes among white voters and by that generation’s diversity. White millennials back Democrats by an 11-point margin — the only generation among whites that favors Democrats over Republicans. 

Non-white millennials favor Democrats by a huge 54-point margin, a similar edge by which non-whites in earlier generations back Democrats. But the millennial generation is the most diverse in American history, meaning there are more non-white voters within that cohort than in any previous generation. 

Millennials, especially those with a college education, are also driving a shift in the political lexicon. Voters in both groups who identify with the Democratic Party are now more likely to call themselves “liberal,” a word once stigmatized in American politics.

As recently as 2000, just 28 percent of Democratic-leaners called themselves liberals. Today, that number is up to 46 percent. 

More than two-thirds of self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaners call themselves conservative. Conservatives still make up a plurality of the electorate, 38 percent, about the same percentage of those who described themselves that way in 2000. 

If the fight for control of Congress comes down to a division in the suburbs, Republicans still have a chance to maintain their majorities. The Pew surveys found 47 percent of voters in suburban counties favor the Democratic Party, while 45 percent favor the GOP. Democrats enjoy a 2-1 advantage in urban counties, while Republicans hold a 16-point edge — 54 percent to 38 percent — in rural America. 

Tellingly, the battleground hasn’t changed much over the span of time. Two decades ago, urban voters favored Democrats by a much slimmer margin, and voters in rural counties were narrowly divided. Those margins have grown, but among suburban voters, those who favor Democrats and those who back the GOP have remained virtually steady over the last quarter century. 

The Pew Research Center’s surveys were based on 10,245 interviews during the course of seven polls conducted during 2017.