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What to Make of the Diploma Divide in American Politics & Why it's Likely to Get Larger

Educational attainment is a new fault line in American politics. Increasingly, voters with college degrees favor Democratic candidates while individuals who haven't attended a university vote for Republicans, especially whites.

The interesting thing about today's "diploma divide" is that Republicans once captured the vast majority of college-educated voters.

New York Magazine: John F. Kennedy lost college-educated voters by a two-to-one margin yet won the presidency thanks to overwhelming support among white voters without a degree."

When I started teaching political science in the early 1990s, Republicans still had a modest advantage with college-educated voters of about 6 to 8%. Between 1994 and 2010, the Democratic Party slowly drew even, and then over the last decade it opened up a large advantage with highly educated voters. In 2020, Joe Biden carried college-educated voters by 16 points and Democrats won them by 10 points in the 2022 midterm elections.

You can also see the trend in party identification. The Pew Research Center found that college-educated Americans now favor the Democratic Party by a whopping 20-point margin, 57% to 37%, one of the largest gaps ever noted in party affiliation research. And among those with some post-graduate study, the margin is 61% to 33%.

The diploma gap is also evident in state politics.

On educational attainment alone [the percentage of residents who have college or graduate degrees] here are the top 10 states: 1. Massachusetts 2. Colorado 3. Vermont 4. Maryland 5. Virginia 6. Connecticut 7. New Hampshire 8. Minnesota 9. Washington State 10. New Jersey. They all have progressive state governments and supported Joe Biden in 2020, most by large margins.

The bottom ten states in college graduates are: 41. Indiana 42. Texas 43. Oklahoma 44. Alabama 45. Nevada 46. Kentucky 47. Arkansas 48. Louisiana 49. Mississippi 50. West Virginia. Each of them, except Nevada, voted for Donald Trump in 2020.

We have discussed the reasons for this shift before, and it boils down to this: the GOP is now out of step with highly educated Americans on a wide variety of issues including gun control, immigration, race, the environment, and LBGT rights. And, the abortion issue is now likely to further enlarge the gap. A majority of Americans of all education levels support abortion rights, but college graduates are far more likely to oppose the type of bans being enacted in conservative states. By a more than 2 to 1 margin [66%-32%] college graduates believe women should be able to access a legal abortion in all or most cases.

The gender breakdown among college grads is also noteworthy. Democrats have a modest advantage with college-educated men, but an enormous margin among women grads, 65 to 30%. And Republican abortion restrictions are likely to make that gap even larger going forward. Women with a college degree overwhelmingly support abortion rights, and in a recent poll of all women, 73% said they wouldn't even apply for a job in a state that passed strict abortion bans such as the one enacted in Texas.

This shift in partisan preference among the highly educated will be increasingly important in future elections because the percentage of Americans with a college degree continues to increase, from 24% of the population in 1994 to 35% today and individuals with a college degree vote more often than non-college grads. According to a Census Bureau study, college-educated individuals are 50% more likely to vote than those with only a high school diploma.

By: Don Lam & Curated Content

#politics #culture #research

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