How social pressures drive the partisan education gap

How social pressures drive the partisan education gap
© Istock

The emerging political divide between white voters with a college education and those without a degree is increasingly a geographic phenomenon, one that helped reshape the American political map and sent President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren: 'White supremacists pose a threat to the United States like any other terrorist group' National Enquirer paid 0,000 for Bezos texts: report Santorum: Trump should 'send emails to a therapist' instead of tweeting MORE to the White House.

Those white voters with a college degree were more likely to back Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all O'Rourke faces sharp backlash from left Dem strategist says South Carolina will be first 'real test' for O'Rourke MORE than they were to back former President Obama, according to exit polls. At the same time, those without college degrees favored Trump by a wider margin than they did Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump keeps tight grip on GOP The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration Overnight Defense: Senate rejects border emergency in rebuke to Trump | Acting Pentagon chief grilled on wall funding | Warren confronts chief over war fund budget MORE or Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSantorum: Trump should 'send emails to a therapist' instead of tweeting Meghan McCain: Trump obsessed with my father because he 'will never be a great man' CNN's Amanda Carpenter: Trump attacking McCain 'to distract' from 'questions about the Russia investigation' MORE (R-Ariz.).


But in a new book out Tuesday, syndicated columnist Salena Zito and GOP strategist Brad Todd find well-educated voters were more likely to shift left if they lived in communities that had disproportionately high levels of education.

Trump ran behind Romney in 86 of the 100 most well-educated counties in America. In the 1,500 counties with the lowest levels of educational attainment, Trump outperformed Romney in all but 51.

At the same time, Clinton outperformed Obama in the nation’s 25 largest counties, by a margin of 1.3 million votes, while Trump underperformed by about 400,000 votes compared to Romney.

Zito and Todd argue that disparity is evidence that social pressures are driving both groups toward political homogeny.

“The driver of this split is not the college education itself, but the social pressure that comes with living exclusively among other college graduates,” Zito and Todd write. “Educated voters who socialize, work, or serve among those with only a high school degree are more likely to reflect the political views of that peer group.”

The book, “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics,” points to the Denver suburbs, where three counties with vastly different education levels show the power of social pressures.

Trump ran 8 points ahead of Romney in Adams County, a traditionally blue-collar Democratic stronghold where just 22 percent of residents have a college degree.

He ran behind Romney in Arapahoe County and Douglas County, where 40 percent and 57 percent of residents hold college degrees.

“College-educated voters in places with a preponderance of double-degree households are likely to conform to their neighborhood dinner party consensus and eschew Trumpism, even if they otherwise lean Republican,” the authors write.

That poses a dilemma to the Republican majority in Congress as the midterm elections approach. Democrats need to win 23 Republican-held seats to reclaim the Speaker’s gavel this year; many of the party’s most promising targets are among the best-educated districts in the country, including several seats in Orange County, Calif., and suburban Washington, D.C., and New York.

“The challenge for Republicans is to keep the Trump coalition intact in rural and small-town geography, while preserving the pre-Trump partisan breakdown of suburbia — a feat that will require keeping longtime Republicans voting their party and newer Trump voters voting their cause,” Zito and Todd write.

The geographic education gap is exacerbated, the authors write, by a divide between those who make business and entertainment decisions and consumers outside the nation’s largest cities. Business and media leaders tend to congregate in a few high-wealth, high-education zip codes in cities like New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where liberal and progressive politics are dominant.

That has led companies like Starbucks and Target to take political stands on social issues like same-sex marriage or transgender bathroom access far more than in the past. Even companies that cater to a more conservative clientele, like Dick’s Sporting Goods or Walmart, have weighed in; both companies recently stopped selling automatic weapons after the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

“After decades of avoiding political controversy, it is now normal to see national consumer brand companies … weigh in on hot-button social and political issues, and almost always on the liberal side of the question,” they write.

The companies have made a bet that will soon face both Democrats and the GOP: that the rising millennial generation, which will soon have more purchasing power than any other generational cohort, will reward more socially progressive stands.

“That’s their future consumer and they think it is more important, indispensable even, to be seen as welcoming that and in no way seen as holding it back,” the authors quote political analyst Ron Brownstein. “I think they are making a clear generational bet.”