The Educational Divide That Helps Explain the Election

From a story on by Kai Elwood-Dieu, Jessica Piper, and Beatrice Jin headlined “The educational divide that helps explain the midterms”:

Control of the House is still up for grabs several days after Election Day — defying historical trends and the pressure of high inflation and President Joe Biden’s unpopularity that threatened the Democratic majority with big losses.

Republicans’ difficulty flipping key swing districts across the country can be explained in part by American politics’ increasing polarization along educational lines, as well as the party’s failure to make inroads in districts populated by groups other than non-college-educated white voters.

The last few election cycles have been marked by an increasing divergence in outcomes based on education levels, with Democrats making serious gains with college-educated voters while Republicans win far greater shares of non-college educated white voters.

The educational divide has been building for years but accelerated dramatically during the Trump era. As recently as the 2012 presidential election, for example, college-educated voters were narrowly split, with college-educated white voters favoring GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

But in the 2020 presidential election, Biden won 68 percent of congressional districts where at least 30 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree. Donald Trump won 64 percent of districts where less than 30 percent are college-educated — and, what’s more, Trump’s showing includes carrying 96 percent of districts that were both below that education threshold and at least 70 percent white.

To win back the House this year, Republicans needed to gain back some of those voters or make inroads with non-college educated voters of color. But they ultimately failed to make major improvements with either group. Democrats mostly held on in educated suburban districts where the party ran strong a decade ago, such as Kansas’s 3rd District, where Rep. Sharice Davis held on, as well as districts with a significant share of non-white college educated voters, such as Texas’s 28th Congressional District, where Rep. Henry Cuellar won reelection.

The most highly educated congressional district to elect a Republican was Georgia’s 6th District, where 56 percent of adults have a college degree. The area flipped to Democrats over the past two election cycles, but a Republican gerrymander allowed the GOP to reclaim it.

Republicans did flip a few toss-up seats in highly educated areas, including New York’s 3rd and 17th districts, both of which have more than 45 percent of voters with at least a bachelor’s degree. But they failed to win back many of the races they targeted with highly-educated voters. Democrat Chris Deluzio prevailed in Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District, an open seat where 41 percent of adults have a degree.

Republicans also did not make significant gains in districts populated by non-college educated voters of color. They won only one of the three battleground seats in the Rio Grande Valley, while Democrats flipped New Mexico’s 2nd District, a majority-Hispanic district where just 20 percent of voters have a bachelor’s degree, and prevailed in Colorado’s 8th District, a seat newly created through redistricting where 25 percent of voters are college-educated.

Several districts with a low share of college-educated voters are still uncalled as of Saturday. Most notable is California’s 22nd District, where only 8 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree, the lowest share of any seat. Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) faced a tough challenge from Democrat Rudy Salas in this majority-Latino district. Vote counting there could stretch into next week.

Non-college educated white voters still make up a significant voting bloc, and success with these voters gives Republicans a high floor when it comes to winning House seats. But winning a majority will require them to win a few more districts with different demographic makeups.

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