Six Reasons Why Highly Educated Americans Are Abandoning the Republican Party



Several weeks ago we documented the exodus of highly educated voters from the Republican party.

Pew Research, 2018: "Voters who have completed college make up a third of all registered voters. And a majority of all voters with at least a four-year college degree (58%) now identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, the highest share dating back to 1992. Just 36% affiliate with the Republican Party or lean toward the GOP."

And the divide is even greater among those with graduate and professional degrees where Democrats now have a two to one advantage. So, the question, of course, is why this is happening. What is it about our politics today that is driving the most educated Americans to abandon the GOP? As we said last week, there is a lot of ongoing research into this, but we already have some pretty good ideas.


1. College educated voters tend to be more progressive. The Pew Research Center studied the growing educational divide between the parties several years ago and found that those with college and graduate degrees held much more progressive views than less educated individuals, on issues such as immigration, race, the environment and LBGT rights. A good liberal arts education teaches an expansive view of the world, including tolerance for differing views, faiths, and cultures and the GOP doesn't seem to embody such views any more. So, the migration of highly educated people to the Democratic Party simply reflects their movement to the party that best embraces their values.


2. College educated white women are abandoning the Republican Party. There has been a "gender gap" in voting for about 40 years and it seems to be accelerating.


In looking at demographic breakdowns from the 2018 election, college educated white women seem to be fleeing the Republican party faster than almost any other group. Black, Hispanic and Asian women, regardless of education, have always been among the most loyal Democratic voters, but highly educated white women are now joining them. In 2018, white college educated men were fairly evenly divided, but highly educated white women favored Democrat House candidates over Republicans by 20 points (59 percent to 39 percent). That trend could be increasingly important in 2020 and beyond because women vote more regularly than men [52-48% generally], live longer on average, and are now earning college degrees at a higher rate then men.


This "gender gap" in voting patterns began in the 1980s after the contentious struggle to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and it has grown over the decades since, but the election of Donald Trump seems to have exacerbated the problem for Republicans. Historian, Nancy Cohen captures the phenomenon rather succinctly:

New York Times, Nancy L. Cohen, author and historian: Mr. Trump’s misogyny and the party’s far-right stance on issues such as abortion and L.G.B.T.Q. rights, guns and immigration have driven away many female voters. Women favor the Democratic Party over the Republican Party by a 19-point margin, according to the Pew Research Center. Seventy-three percent of women under the age of 30 disapprove of the president’s performance, according to the Harvard Institute of Politics Youth Poll.

3. Republicans have a "science problem." The GOP is increasingly viewed as the party of "science deniers," and that is a problem for many highly educated individuals. It isn't a new phenomenon." Two decades before climate change denial, conservatives warred against reducing CFCs to stop ozone layer depletion [Rush Limbaugh cut his teeth on the issue], and before that they fought to have evolution banned from high-school biology classes. They still want "creationism" taught in our schools, lobby against embryonic stem cell research, and deny climate change, the big bang theory, and the biodiversity crisis. And, in recent years, conservatives took the lead in the dangerously ignorant anti-vaccination movement as it came to align with their growing distrust of scientists and government officials.

Illuminate: "While the anti-vaccination movement started out as an equal opportunity conspiracy theory, not aligned with political ideology, a recent peer reviewed study found that it is morphing into another anti-government movement among conservatives. And it seems to be closely related to a lack of trust in government officials and medical scientists."

So, regarding some of the most important issues of our time, conservatives are widely viewed as hostile to science and many educated individuals see their beliefs as archaic or impediments to finding solutions to the nation's problems.


4. Conservatives have a "globalism" and xenophobia problem. If you speak with highly educated Americans [who some might call "cosmopolitans" in this context] , the vast majority aren't hung up over globalism, the United Nations, or more Hispanics and Asians living in their neighborhood. They understand the important role the UN and other international institutions play in foreign affairs on such issues as the environment, refugees, health and human rights. And the current administration's views on immigration and refugees just sound like a lot of xenophobic nonsense. They attended college with a wide variety of folks of all races, nationalities and sexual preferences and don't long for America's more homogeneous past.


Moreover, many college educated Americans have studied or lived abroad and work for companies that employ people from across the globe. They make their living in a globalized world, and understand the importance of America's role in the world economy. "America First" is a wonderful slogan for the 19th century, but seems counterproductive to our nation's ability to "win" the future.


5. The GOP has an Evangelical problem. There is a famous quote from the father of modern conservatism, Barry Goldwater, that captures the down-side to the GOP's embrace of white evangelical Christians in the 1980s and their dependence on them today.

Barry Goldwater [1994]: “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them.”

Goldwater, as much a libertarian as a Republican, had a problem with the culture war issues that are so important to evangelicals today, and many highly educated Americans do too, even ones who skew right on economic issues. College graduates overwhelmingly support LGBT rights, comprehensive sex education, and abortion, and oppose mandatory school prayer. Most just shake their head, when Bill O'Reilly or Donald Trump suggests that there is a "War on Christmas." So, while the GOP's embrace of evangelical Christians gained them votes in the Southeast and Great Plains, it's losing them the support of highly educated Americans across the country.


6. Republicans have a gun problem. Rural voters are generally supportive of conservative efforts to reduce the regulation of firearms, but America's mass-shooting problem has had an impact on how college educated individuals view gun rights. Two-thirds of college students say they are "concerned that the government will not do enough to regulate access to firearms", while just 34% are more worried that the government will go too far in restricting gun rights. And among Americans with a bachelor's degree or more, 72% believe the nation's gun laws should be more strict.


The Republican Party's loss of college educated voters isn't catastrophic yet because they still represent just a third of the electorate, but that percentage is increasing each year and Generation X, which is taking the reins of power across the country, is much better educated than earlier generations.


#research #politics

By: Don Lam & Curated Content

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