Hillary Clinton is winning in states with a greater proportion of highly educated white voters, a demographic that her rival Donald Trump needs to win over in order to have a shot at the presidency.
Clinton polls proportionally better in states that have a higher ratio of white people with college degrees relative to the overall number of white people in the state. As the following chart shows, in the 21 states where HuffPost Pollster has enough survey data to estimate the state of the race, there’s a moderately positive correlation between Clinton’s margin and the percentage of whites over age 25 who’ve obtained a bachelor’s degree.
These white, highly educated Americans, who have tended to lean Republican, could help to reshape the electoral map, keeping Clinton competitive in traditionally red states and contributing to her advantage in states like Colorado and Virginia, where races have often been closer.
As The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein notes, winning over educated white voters is crucial for Trump. With white voters who don’t have a college education still largely in Trump’s camp, and nonwhite voters unlikely to give him much support, “that leaves college-educated whites as the campaign’s most closely contested ― and conflicted ― major constituency,” Brownstein wrote in July.
“Even if [Trump] grows among blue-collar whites to Reagan ’84 levels, his struggles among non-whites means he likely can’t win without capturing either slightly below or just above 60 percent of college-educated whites, depending on how large a share of the vote they comprise,” Brownstein went on. “For comparison, the exit polls showed Romney winning 56 percent of white-collar whites last time.”
Now, a month later, Trump seems increasingly unlikely to match even those numbers. Clinton leads among white voters with college degrees by 10 points, 46 percent to 36 percent, according to the most recent YouGov/Economist poll. Other surveys have shown her leading among that group by smaller margins.
If those numbers hold, they would mark a significant realignment along educational lines, making Trump the first Republican presidential candidate in 60 years to lose white college graduates.
Clinton’s strength among that demographic is the culmination of a long shift in American politics.
As recently as 1992, there was no correlation between the share of a state’s population with a college degree and that state’s willingness to vote Republican, according to Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. By 2012, Democrats were performing markedly better in more educated states.
“Republicans and Democrats essentially underwent a four-decade exchange program,” Drutman wrote. “Democrats sent Republicans their non-college-educated, culturally conservative white voters, mostly in declining rural and exurban areas, who had once been the core of the New Deal. In return, Democrats got culturally liberal wealthy professionals, largely in prosperous urban and suburban areas, many of whom were once ‘Rockefeller Republicans’ and had once opposed many elements of the New Deal.”
Trump’s weakness with well-educated white voters, in fact, could explain his recent outreach to black and Latino voters. Polls have shown that one of the things college-educated whites don’t like about Trump is their belief that he is either racist or willing to use racist themes in his campaign. It’s been argued that his newfound concern about minorities may be less about winning voters of color and more about persuading skeptical white voters that he is not a racist.
S.V. Date contributed reporting.