Education, income, race, and partisanship

Fascinating analysis from Harry Enten on the shifts of white college and non-college voters:

Hart’s loss is one of the strongest signs of a larger story: educational polarization in our politics dominating even in places it didn’t previously exist, while income has become considerably less important in determining voting patterns…

Democrats represent a mere five seats of the 65 districts (8%) that have a higher proportion of Whites without a college degree in their ranks. All of those Democratic representatives were incumbents heading into the 2020 elections (i.e. no non-incumbents like Hart won in these districts). Going further, a mere two of the top 50 districts with Whites without a college degree have a Democratic representative and none of the top 10 do…

After the 2006 elections, Democrats controlled 44% of the districts with as many or more White non-college graduates as Iowa’s 2nd District. They held 23 of the top 50 districts matching this description, or 21 more than they do now. Additionally, Democrats held five of the top 10 of these districts compared to zero today…

The cultural shift that has allowed education to become a predominant factor in our voting patterns has also shifted the way we think about class in politics.
Today, it’s common to say that Republicans do well among “White working class” voters, which we mean to be a stand-in for them doing well among Whites without a college degree.
Of course, working class can also mean those who are lower on the income ladder. The reason we don’t focus on income is because it simply doesn’t explain as much about our politics.
Take a look at the Cooperative Election Study, which is a large academic survey of voters taken after each election, to better understand how little income matters to White voting patterns.
Non-college White voters wanted no part of voting Democratic in 2020 House races, regardless of their income levels. White voters without a college degree favored Republicans by about a 26-point margin, if their family income was below the median. They voted Republican by a 31-point margin if their family income was above the median.
Among all White respondents, the Democratic margin increased by 39 points when respondents had a college degree. The House margin among all White respondents shifted by 5 points toward the Democrats, when their family income was above the median compared to below.
It’s not that higher income makes White voters more Democratic, but rather that education is such a powerful pull and more educated voters tend to be wealthier. This is why we see wealthier White areas trending Democratic and poorer areas trending Republican in recent years. The latter tend to be filled with less educated voters, while the former tend to have more educated voters.
In other words, income matters very little among White voters. Education means everything.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Education, income, race, and partisanship

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    No wonder that Republicans are opposed to free college education for all!
    Let’s face it – a good college education opens so many possibilities for students’ futures that hopes for success and happiness in life are enabled.
    Remember when Democrats used to be the happy party? “Happy Days Are Here Again!”
    My occasional visits to Fox News brings a constant barrage of anger at me. Maybe that’s why its listeners are so angry.
    Democrats need to avoid anger and offer uplifting policies instead. I think Joe Biden understands this.

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