State Watch

Educated voters breaking hard against GOP

The new Democratic House majority will include more than a dozen members who knocked off Republican incumbents in some of the best-educated districts in the country.

Voters who have attained a bachelor’s degree favored Democrats by a 20-point margin in this year’s midterm elections, according to exit surveys. Those without a bachelor’s degree told pollsters they split their ballots evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

The huge edge, fueled by anger among those voters toward President Trump, helped Democrats pick up a significant number of districts in suburbs across the country. Democrats captured 14 of the 18 Republican-held districts with the highest percentages of college-educated voters, and 17 of the 25 best-educated Republican districts.


“We are seeing an educational divide. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to vote for Democrats,” said Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist and author of “GOP GPS: How to Find the Millennials and Urban Voters the Republican Party Needs to Survive.”

In the new Congress, Democrats will hold 83 of the 100 districts where the highest percentage of voters hold a college degree. Among the 50 best-educated districts, Republicans hold just four seats.

By contrast, the two parties evenly divide the 50 districts with the lowest levels of college attainment, at 25 seats apiece. That’s in part because those districts are more likely to include heavy minority populations who favor Democrats by wider margins than non-college educated whites favor Republicans.

Underscoring the key fault lines in American politics today, the average Democratic-held district is better educated, younger and far more diverse than the average Republican-held district, according to a review of election results and U.S. Census Bureau data.

In the next Congress, more than a third of constituents in the average Democratic district, 36.6 percent, will hold a bachelor’s degree. Just more than a quarter, 28.2 percent, of residents in the average Republican-held district hold a bachelor’s degree.

Younger voters, too, are moving away from the GOP at alarming rates. Democrats hold 24 of the 26 congressional districts with the youngest median age; the only two Republican-held seats in that cohort are in Utah, where fast-growing Mormon and Hispanic populations are still conservative.

Yet even in the Beehive State, Democrats picked up a House seat this year when Rep.-elect Ben McAdams (D) narrowly ousted Rep. Mia Love (R).

Cheryl Russell, a demographer who runs the Demo Memo blog, said the trend over time should worry Republicans, who are drawing larger and larger percentages from a shrinking pool within the electorate.

“College-educated whites are becoming a larger share of white voters because of generational replacement,” Russell said.

Exit poll and survey data shows the millennial generation favors Democratic candidates by a far wider margin than any other age cohort favors one side or the other. The millennial and post-millennial generations are also more likely to have attained college degrees.

Even more predictive than education or generation is race. Forty-four percent of white Americans voted for a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2018, compared with 69 percent of Hispanics, 77 percent of Asian-Americans and a whopping 90 percent of African-American voters, according to Pew Research Center data.

More than four-fifths of residents in the average Republican’s district, 82.2 percent, are white. By contrast, only two-thirds of the constituents in the average Democrat’s district are white.

Among the 100 most diverse districts in the country — districts where the nonwhite population is highest — Republicans hold just 11 seats. Among the top 50, they hold only one seat — Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick’s (R-Pa.).

The increasing polarization along educational, racial and generational lines has implications for the 2020 presidential contest, when President Trump will seek reelection before a larger electorate than the one that handed Democrats so many wins this year.

The electorate this year was about 72 percent white, according to exit polls. The percentage of white voters as a share of the electorate tends to decline every two years, as more diverse younger generations reach ages at which they are more likely to vote.

“As long as the Republican Party continues to pander to the grievances of the white working class, a growing share of college-educated whites will align themselves with the Democratic Party,” Russell said. “It will be even more so in 2020.”

Siegfried, the Republican strategist, said his party needs to compete more in suburban areas where younger and more educated voters tend to congregate, and where Trump’s approval rating has been so dismal.

“The suburbs are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, which means Republican ideas still have viability. However, in order to start winning these more educated suburban voters back, we are going to need to get our act together,” he said. “The question is whether we’re smart enough to do that before 2020.”

Tags 2018 midterm elections Brian Fitzpatrick college-educated voters Donald Trump Mia Love suburban voters
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