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Matthew Continetti

Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

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Opinion

Education, income becoming key variables in elections

Mar 21

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Education, income level, geography, race and ethnicity are all key variables in estimating who voters might support. But the importance of these variables has changed in recent elections, as America’s demography, culture and political movements continue to evolve.

Straight Arrow News contributor Matthew Continetti argues that education and income level have become more important than race or ethnicity, that this change marks a shift from previous elections where race was more important, and that this change continues to accelerate over time.

Data show Democrats rapidly losing non-college educated minority voters, particularly Hispanics, to the Republicans. For example, Trump’s favorability has doubled among Hispanic Americans in the last year. And the Democrats’ advantage among non-white voters is at its lowest point since the 1960s.

This realignment has unfolded in stages. It began in the 1960s, with non-college whites abandoning Democrats over issues like crime and Vietnam. Then in the 1990s, college-educated whites began drifting from the Republicans over the religious right and the NRA.

Trump’s 2016 election marked the third stage, with many college white voters leaving the GOP but being offset by huge gains among non-college whites. The white working class felt a gut connection to Trump, who also began picking up support among Hispanic voters and Black men, despite the media narrative that he and MAGA are racist.

Biden’s presidency has catalyzed the educational divide. His policies on spending, energy and immigration have alienated non-college voters of every race and ethnicity concerned about living standards, security and the rule of law.

If Donald Trump is elected president in November, he will have assembled a coalition unlike any Republican nominee in my lifetime. For decades, GOP success depended on support from three groups, college educated white voters in the suburbs, non college educated white voters in manufacturing in rural areas and independent voters. Donald Trump succeeded with a strategy in 2016. But he lost ground with white college educated and independent voters and 2020, contributing to his defeat. And yet, remarkably, Trump is now leading Joe Biden, he’s won back independence. Perhaps most important, he’s made gains among non college educated non white voters. These new voters more than compensate for Trump’s continued struggles with college educated whites. As recently as a few years ago, one might have been skeptical toward claims that educational attainment and ideology were becoming more significant than ethnicity and race. Such incredulity is no longer warranted. The realignment isn’t just real, it’s accelerating. Data show Democrats rapidly losing non college educated minority voters, particularly Hispanics to the Republicans. For example, Trump’s favorability has doubled among Hispanic Americans in the last year. And the Democrats advantage among non white voters is at its lowest point since the 1960s. This realignment has unfolded in stages. It began in the 1960s, with non college whites abandoning Democrats over issues like crime and Vietnam. Then in the 1990s, college educated whites began drifting from the Republicans over the religious right, and the NRA. Trump’s 2016 election marked the third stage, with many college white voters leaving the GOP but being offset by huge gains among non college whites. The white working class felt a gut connection to Trump, who also began picking up support among Hispanic voters and black men. Despite the media narrative that he and Maga are racist. Biden’s presidency has catalyzed the educational divide. His policies on spending energy and immigration have alienated non college voters of every race and ethnicity concerned about living standards, security and the rule of law. The world has become more dangerous with Russia invading Ukraine, Iranian proxies wreaking havoc in the Middle East, and China and North Korea testing American willpower state collapse in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela and Haiti, fuels migration and unrest. Biden will turn 82 years old in November, he doesn’t look up to the job. A realign politics isn’t stable. As the Democrats become the party of college educated affluent insiders. They become removed from the world of non college educated workers who feel ignored or excluded from elite institutions and expert decision making. The professionalization of print digital and broadcast media has a strange writers and talkers for most Americans. The highly educated highly compensated denizens of Washington DC and its surrounding counties have become a world unto themselves. Those who live inside the bubble find it hard, if not impossible to see outside of it. There’s less trust in a society where those who write the rules appear insulated or exempt from the rules. We aren’t used to a politics where the party of the left represents the establishment, and the party of the right represents an insurgent movement against the settled way of doing things. Poll results are not the equivalent of ballot returns. The Trump coalition may fail to materialize this November, or it could show up in all the wrong places, winning Trump additional votes and blue cities in states he’s fated to lose. And yet, when I look at Biden’s consistently abysmal poll numbers, I can’t help feeling that the country has written him off. The Democratic coalition has imploded and a new phase of American politics, raucous demotic performative over the top and potentially earth shattering is about to begin.

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