Sunday, October 21, 2018

Why the 2018 Election Won't "All Come Down to Turnout"

The claim that an upcoming election "all comes down to turnout" is one of the most venerable clich├ęs in American punditry. But it's become more popular than ever in an era when the mass public is commonly characterized as consisting of two implacable partisan tribes, equally unshakable in their preferences and aversions. If virtually every potential voter is a loyal member of either the red team or the blue team, the outcome of a national election is presumably determined simply by which party can motivate its supporters to participate at the highest rate.

Swing voters are indeed less numerous than they used to be, and the geographic polarization of the American electorate has reduced the number of states and congressional districts that are politically competitive in any given contest. But at a time when the two major parties are closely matched in national strength, the voters who remain open to persuasion continue to hold a lot of electoral power. And it's far from clear whether there will be a large enough difference in the participation rates of committed Democrats and Republicans for turnout to be the primary factor deciding the 2018 election.

To be sure, evidence is piling up that Democratic voters are unusually mobilized this year compared to the recent past. A September survey by the Pew Research Center found that 67 percent of Democratic supporters reported being "more enthusiastic than usual" about voting—a much higher rate than Pew found in either 2014 (36 percent) or 2010 (42 percent). Turnout in Democratic primary elections surged to 23 million voters in 2018, up from 14 million in 2014. And the astounding fundraising totals reported by Democratic congressional candidates, fueled by an unprecedented explosion of small-dollar contributions by individual donors, surely reflects an unusual degree of engagement among politically attentive Democratic citizens—and also ensures a series of generously-funded Democratic get-out-the-vote operations from one end of the country to the other.

But 2010 and 2014 were both unusually poor elections for the Democratic Party nationwide. Improved Democratic participation in 2018 compared to the two most recent midterms may prevent another disastrous performance, but it hardly guarantees a blue wave. And while Democrats are clearly much more engaged this year than in the recent past, Republicans are not necessarily less engaged.

According to Pew, 59 percent of Republican supporters are "more enthusiastic" about voting than usual in 2018—not far behind Democrats and at least equal to Republicans' own reported enthusiasm levels in 2014 (52 percent) and 2010 (57 percent). Among respondents to a recent Washington Post poll, 81 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans claimed to be "absolutely certain to vote" in November (surely a massive collective exaggeration of the actual turnout rate, but not one that reveals a significant difference between the parties), and an NBC-Wall Street Journal survey found that 72 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans reported "high interest" in the 2018 elections. Similarly, while the GOP didn't experience a spike in participation as large as that of the Democrats this year, turnout in Republican primaries was still higher in 2018 than 2014, growing from 15.5 million to more than 19 million votes.

Moreover, few pollsters are finding that restricting their analyses to the fraction of respondents identified as certain or likely voters (as opposed to all registered voters) produces significantly more favorable results for Democratic candidates in 2018. In fact, it's relatively good news for Democrats that they don't seem to lose ground when survey analysts use a "likely voter screen" to compensate for the projected composition of this year's electorate. Republicans normally enjoy a persistently higher turnout rate in midterm elections that diminishes or disappears in good Democratic years but seldom, if ever, transforms into an actual pro-Democratic turnout advantage. As Nate Cohn of the New York Times observes, "When Democrats hold the presidency, Republicans generally have a big midterm turnout edge . . . [and] when Republicans hold the presidency, Democrats fight back to parity."

Based on the incomplete signs so far from state election officials' reported early voting and absentee balloting totals, turnout is likely to increase across the board in 2018 from its 2014 levels. Democrats, of course, are strongly motivated this year by their deep antipathy to the Trump presidency. But Republicans don't appear to be staying home either—certainly not to the degree that Democrats did during the two Obama midterms. The polarizing figure of Trump may be inspiring elevated engagement on both sides; at minimum, it seems likely that the constant public attention commanded by the current president has resulted in Americans of all partisan persuasions thinking and talking more about politics than they did before he took office.

With Democrats and Republicans both invested in this year's election, a potential nationwide blue wave will require a non-trivial proportion of voters to shift from the GOP (or third parties) in 2016 to Democratic candidates in 2018. There are 25 Republican-held House seats that were carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, barely more than the minimum net gain (23) needed by the Democrats to take control of the chamber, and it seems unlikely that Democrats could win enough of these seats alone to gain an overall majority. But there are also 16 Republican-held seats that Trump carried with less than 50 percent of the total popular vote, 23 additional Republican seats where Trump received between 50 and 52 percent of the total vote, and another 24 seats where Trump received 53 or 54 percent of the vote. These are the pivotal districts that hold the partisan balance of power in the House. Democrats don't need to peel off a large share of voters who previously preferred Republican candidates in order to capture majority control, but merely energizing their own habitual partisan supporters is probably insufficient to flip enough seats their way absent a modicum of successful persuasion as well.

In the Senate, the Democrats' need for a lopsided advantage among swing voters is even more evident. Five of the six most vulnerable Democratic incumbents this fall were elected in 2012 even as Mitt Romney carried their states over Barack Obama (Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia); the sixth, Bill Nelson of Florida, represents a state where Obama achieved a narrow plurality win. All six states shifted further toward the Republicans in 2016; these Democrats are thus dependent upon a significant share of their constituents continuing to divide their partisan preferences, and this dependence increases further with every sign of a mobilized Republican base in 2018.

According to exit polls, self-identified independents preferred Republican candidates by margins of 56 percent to 44 percent in 2014 and 59 percent to 41 percent in 2010, making an underappreciated but critical contribution to the national GOP sweep in both elections. In 2006—the last Democratic midterm victory—independents gave Democrats an equally favorable margin of 59 percent to 41 percent. Leads for Democratic candidates in 2018 voter surveys, including a persistent advantage for the party in the national generic congressional ballot, have similarly been fueled by a steady erosion of Republican support among independents since the 2016 election. The addition of these independent votes to the revved-up Democratic "resistance" seems like a formula for electoral success in November, but many persuadable voters are not as attentive to politics as strong partisans are, and their preferences are likely to be somewhat unsettled even as Election Day swiftly approaches. With so many seats in play at all levels of government, it's still too soon to tell exactly how far the swing vote will swing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Podcast on Trump's GOP, the Democratic Opposition, and What's Ahead in November (and Beyond)

My colleague and co-author Matt Grossmann hosts an excellent podcast, Political Research Digest, featuring short interviews with social scientists about their latest research. For the first anniversary of the podcast, Matt invited me to join him in a longer and more conversational episode in which we consider how the major differences between the two parties that we identified in our book Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats have or haven't changed in the two years since the book's publication. We also discuss the 2018 elections, the future of the Democratic Party in 2019 and 2020, and my latest book Red Fighting Blue: How Geography and Electoral Rules Polarize American Politics. You can listen to our conversation and/or read a transcript here.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Consequences of a Kavanaugh Confirmation? Yes, in the Long Term

When a political event of any note occurs in the midst of a campaign season—and often when it doesn't—media commentators predictably lapse into extensive speculation about its likely effect on the outcome of the next election. As the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court moves closer to an endgame in the Senate, debates over the impact of a potential confirmation on this fall's midterms have become more frequent. Will one party's supporters become energized and the other demoralized as a result of the vote? Would Democrats benefit in November from a rejection of Kavanaugh's nomination, or does extending the process actually help Republicans rally voters in red states?

I remain skeptical that the Kavanaugh appointment, however it turns out, will exert a measurable effect on the outcome in 2018. The voters who care about the Court and have been following the proceedings closely are also the most likely to already be strong partisans and highly engaged in the election. Kavanaugh is not a popular nominee by historical standards, but views generally fall along existing party lines and about a third of Americans don't know enough about him to have an opinion either way. It's possible that a Kavanaugh confirmation will push Democratic enthusiasm for voting "through the roof," but Democrats (as well as Republicans) are already at historically high levels on that score this year. And we still have six weeks to go before Election Day, with plenty of opportunity for a new issue or crisis to redirect popular attention elsewhere.

But that doesn't mean that the events of this week, and next, won't have important long-term implications. Just as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings of 1991 helped to inspire a then-record number of women to seek political office the following year, a Senate vote to confirm Kavanaugh despite the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford may turn out to be an important moment in the intersection of gender and party politics. This year has already produced a remarkable surge in the supply of, and demand for, female candidates in the Democratic Party, but a widespread backlash against Kavanaugh might help sustain this unprecedented mobilization of women in 2020 and beyond.

Today's hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee also laid the foundation for another set of potential developments in the future. To the extent that it reflected a calculated strategy, Kavanaugh's combative demeanor toward Democratic senators and angry denunciation of the charges against him as a partisan conspiracy were apparently intended to rally Republicans to his enthusiastic defense—including a president who was reportedly dissatisfied with his nominee's degree of aggressiveness on his own behalf earlier in the week.

But there is a cost to dropping the cloak of non-partisanship and reserved judicial temperament en route to the Supreme Court, just as there is a cost to putting someone accused of sexual assault by multiple women in a position to cast pivotal votes on abortion rights and related subjects. Trump and other Republicans could have avoided these costs by quickly withdrawing Kavanaugh in favor of an equally conservative but less controversial nominee, but they are now in the position of either forcing their own party's moderate members to vote Kavanaugh down or setting him up to be a divisive figure on the bench for years to come. It's even conceivable that John Roberts—sufficiently concerned about the legitimacy of his institution to serve as the surprise swing vote upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in 2012—will turn out to be less ambitious in charting a new rightward trajectory for the Court if Kavanaugh is confirmed than he would have been alongside a different appointee.

Trump, whatever his other qualities, is not known for being excessively occupied with long-term planning, and the entire Republican Party is now subject to Trump's win-the-day strategic mentality for at least the duration of his tenure as its national leader. That doesn't mean, however, that the rest of us can't take the broader view. If Kavanaugh joins the Court, the consequences may not be immediately visible in the election returns, but they will still stretch on for many years after the 2018 midterms have come and gone.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

There Are Two Gender Gaps—And the Gap Between Them Is Growing

The gender gap, produced by the relative pro-Democratic lean of women and pro-Republican lean of men in party affiliation and voting habits, has been a fact of American electoral life since the 1980s. In 2016, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, women voted Democratic for president by a margin of 15 points (54 percent to 39 percent), while men voted Republican by 11 points (52 percent to 41 percent). This difference was somewhat larger in 2016 than in other recent elections—probably reflecting the specific candidates on the ballot last time—though not dramatically so; Gallup estimated in 2012 that Barack Obama had carried the women's vote by 12 points while losing to Mitt Romney by 8 points among men.

But gender differences in the composition of the parties become greater as we move up the ladder of political engagement from average voters to activists, candidates, interest group leaders, and elected officials. Today, for example, 74 percent of female senators are Democrats, as are 73 percent of female U.S. House members—even though Republicans outnumber Democrats overall in both chambers. And this elite-level gender gap is certain to grow after the 2018 midterms. Democrats have nominated 183 women for the House this year (compared to 52 for the Republicans), representing a record 43 percent of the party's candidates. Among non-incumbents, a full 50 percent of Democratic House candidates are female, compared to 18 percent for the GOP:



This imbalance between the parties is also evident in senatorial and gubernatorial races, where women constitute 38 percent of Democratic nominees in 2018, compared to 17 percent of Republican nominees:



Democratic women are still undercounted in leadership ranks; because they reliably outnumber men among the party's supporters in the national electorate, even the perfectly balanced gender ratio among non-incumbent House candidates in 2018 gives female Democrats less than their proportionate share. But Republican women are underrepresented among the politician class to a much greater degree. According to the Pew data, women provided Donald Trump with about 48 percent of his popular votes in 2016, yet they constitute only 14 percent of the party's 2018 congressional candidates, 12 percent of its sitting senators and governors, and 10 percent of its current House membership. And it's quite possible that the share of female Republicans in Congress will decline further after 2018, since several veteran incumbents are retiring and a few others face tough races against Democratic challengers this November.

So there are really two gender gaps—one each in mass and elite politics—that differ markedly in magnitude. But they differ in their character as well. Scholars have not settled on a consensus explanation for the emergence of the gender gap among rank-and-file voters, but some analyses have suggested that, despite common assumptions that political disagreements between male and female citizens center mostly on stereotypical "women's issues," its existence mostly reflects distinct views on economics. In general, women tend to be more liberal than men on kitchen-table domestic policy concerns like health care and Social Security, perhaps reflecting the fact that they are collectively more economically vulnerable than men—especially if unmarried.

In the echelons of political leadership, however, the partisan loyalties and policy priorities of many women on the Democratic left are visibly fueled by a personal commitment to feminism and related social causes. Because the top ranks of the conservative Republican opposition are so heavily dominated by men, the landscape populated by nationally prominent politicians and activists—as well as the related professional worlds inhabited by reporters, intellectuals, social critics, media personalities, and the rest of the "creative class"—can resemble a perpetually polarized battle of the sexes in which gender differences closely map onto other stark political divisions separating participants along lines of partisanship, ideology, and cultural perspective.

This pattern is further reinforced by current fashions in liberal thought and rhetoric. The strong individualistic streak that once characterized the American left is gradually giving way to newer intellectual trends emphasizing the inescapable salience of social group membership as a source of common interests, priorities, experiences, and threats. Contemporary liberal activists with visible social media platforms or prominent positions in opinion journalism and the entertainment industry commonly characterize issues like abortion, sexual assault and harassment, and demands for demographic diversity in high-status professions as uniting women as a group ("#YesAllWomen") against a male-identified opposition bent on their subjugation ("#SmashThePatriarchy").

But among the American public as a whole, differences in opinion between men and women on such matters are often modest or nonexistent, and are reliably smaller than more familiar divisions along party lines. For example, a recent Pew survey found no significant gender gap on abortion (59 percent of women and 55 percent of men favored legal abortion in "all or most cases") but a much wider divide separating partisans (75 percent of Democrats took the pro-choice position, compared to 34 percent of Republicans). Another survey conducted this past April asking whether "sexual harassment and assault is a major problem in the workplace today" found a 10-point difference by gender (55 percent of women and 45 percent of men agreed) and a 29-point difference by party (62 percent of Democrats agreed, compared to 33 percent of Republicans). Even the surge in female office-seekers depicted in the graphs above inspires the same pattern; 80 percent of Democrats (including 75 percent of Democratic men) say it's a "good thing" that more women are running for Congress in 2018, but only 39 percent of Republicans—and only 45 percent of Republican women—express enthusiasm about this development.

This doesn't mean that the promotion of feminist thought by liberal elites has had little effect on public opinion more broadly. The reception of these ideas has merely been much warmer among Democrats than among Republicans—even female Republicans—further fueling a societal debate in which the largest divide is between the two parties, not the two genders. Analysis that fails to acknowledge the overwhelming influence of partisanship risks misstating or incorrectly forecasting the public's response to political events or figures that touch on gender issues. Feminist thinkers and activists may claim the standing to speak on behalf of women as a group, but women out in the public at large exhibit much less collective coherence, or distinctiveness from men, than it appears from the vantage point of the politically hyper-engaged.

For example, when the "Access Hollywood" footage of Donald Trump surfaced in October 2016, most pundits, and even leading Republicans like Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan, assumed that scandalized women would abandon his candidacy en masse, leaving him to a certain and perhaps historic defeat. Instead, Trump's female supporters stayed loyal and carried him to an upset victory. Likewise, the emergence this week of sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh inspired predictions from some corners of a popular backlash among women that would soon scuttle his chances of confirmation in the Senate. It's too soon to know for sure, but there's little evidence so far of significant erosion in Kavanaugh's public support; Democrats already disliked him, and Republicans who were initially favorable to his nomination haven't yet heard anything to change their minds.

I've argued repeatedly that the coast-to-coast eruption of female-led Democratic activism in 2018 is the most important electoral development of the year, and probably the most underappreciated. A compositional transformation and mass mobilization on such a large scale is sure to have significant consequences for American political life even if it is confined to only one party. And this "pink wave" is itself a response to key developments in Republican politics that culminated in the election of the current presidential administration.

We don't yet know, however, whether Democratic primary voters' growing preference for female candidates will be shared by the much larger and politically diverse general electorate this November, or how the feminist case against Republican rule made by thought leaders in the national media will resonate among women—or men, for that matter—in the pivotal midwestern constituencies that hold the balance of power in Congress. In the age of Trump, the gender gap among elites seems to be growing more intense by the day. But will the mass gender gap start moving in the same direction, or will the gap between the gaps just continue to grow?

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Primary Election Recap: A Big Upset Here at Home

Honest Graft headquarters is located in the 7th District of Massachusetts, a constituency that rarely commands the attention of the national political world. As denizens of a one-party city located within a seldom-competitive state, Boston voters are unused to producing electoral outcomes of interest to anyone but ourselves (if even that). But on Tuesday night, an already newsy day in American politics was capped by a major upset: the defeat, by a wide popular margin, of 10-term incumbent House member Mike Capuano by Boston city councillor Ayanna Pressley.

I'll admit that I expected Capuano to win this race. He wasn't caught napping by Pressley's challenge; in fact, he outspent her by a substantial amount and, at least in our corner of the district, ran a more visible campaign. Moreover, his down-the-line liberal voting record in Congress gave Pressley few specific targets to attack. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, while the district is nominally a majority-minority seat, the active electorate is mostly white—and white Bostonians do not have much of a history of voting for non-white Bostonians.

As I argued on Twitter, I think it's a mistake to view the Pressley victory primarily as a manifestation of a larger pattern of ideological purity tests in Democratic nomination politics; if pundits insist upon characterizing the results in MA-07 as part of a national trend, a much better choice of context is the record-setting rate at which Democratic voters are nominating women for office in 2018. In fact, other results around the state on Tuesday didn't fit the story of a newly-dominant left. Incumbent House members Richard Neal and Stephen Lynch—the latter much less liberal than Capuano—easily defeated insurgent primary challengers, and statewide candidates Jay Gonzalez and Bill Galvin cruised to victory over more left-leaning opponents.

But the Pressley-Capuano race does represent a potential milestone all the same, with resonances that extend beyond the borders of the district in which it was fought. Steady rates of population change over the past two decades or so in Boston—as well as in neighboring Cambridge and Somerville, both located at least partially within the borders of MA-07—have brought streams of younger professionals into neighborhoods that were previously home to working-class urban residents. Both types of voters are mostly Democratic—and, to a degree, mostly liberal—but they have different sets of political concerns, priorities, and styles.

A city that has become mostly a collection of highly-educated cosmopolitan whites and politically mobilized racial minorities is potentially fertile ground for candidates with Pressley's profile—and, in fact, the most remarkable thing about this race might be how long it took for these population shifts to translate into political change. The Somerville of the 1990s was still home to a significant blue-collar "white ethnic" vote that elected Capuano mayor before helping to send him to Congress in the first place; the Somerville of today is a rapidly gentrifying satellite of the Tufts and Harvard campuses that nearly opted for Pressley over its erstwhile favorite son.

It could well turn out to be a fitting coincidence that Pressley defeated Capuano on the same day that Rahm Emanuel announced his retirement as mayor of Chicago. Emanuel personifies a certain kind of urban politician—liberal and Democratic, yet bluntly transactional, impatient with idealism, and sensitive to the interests of businesses and law enforcement unions—who once ruled American cities from one side of the country to the other but who are becoming increasingly scarce, and even somewhat anachronistic. We may be observing the rise of a new style of urban politics that is more conversant with national issues and ideological currents than its predecessors, and in which white voters increasingly join non-whites in opposing policies and patterns of demographic representation that are perceived to disfavor racial minorities and other socially disadvantaged groups. If so, Boston will not be the only city to soon feel a political change in the air.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Quiet Reinvention of Ted Cruz

It's hardly unusual for an incumbent politician to kick off a re-election campaign by producing a television ad recalling a past crisis when he provided both personal comfort and—even more importantly—public resources to his constituents in their moment of need. But when that politician is better known for taking symbolic stands on the floor of Congress than for working pragmatically with others to deliver material benefits to his home state, even a fairly ordinary 30-second spot seems like a window into a larger personal reinvention.

The politician in question is Texas senator Ted Cruz, who built a national reputation as a Tea Party-aligned conservative purist during the second term of the Obama presidency before running for president himself in 2016. Earlier this month, Cruz, now seeking a second term in the Senate, released his first positive campaign ad of the year, which emphasized his role in securing federal funds on behalf of the victims of Hurricane Harvey and featured video clips of the senator—not normally known as a touchy-feely type—embracing and holding the hands of disaster-afflicted citizens. The Cruz portrayed in the ad is indeed a fighter, but for the immediate interests of fellow Texans rather than for timeless ideological principles.

Cruz appears to have good reason to recast his public persona. Unlike other candidates like Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich, who returned home with their popularity intact after losing the 2016 nomination race, the elevated visibility that Cruz received by running for president damaged his reputation among Texas voters. According to University of Texas surveys, the proportion of state residents holding a favorable impression of Cruz peaked at 46 percent (compared to 34 percent reporting an unfavorable impression) in June 2014; by the end of his presidential candidacy two years later, Cruz's favorability rating had sunk to just 31 percent (versus 48 percent unfavorable).

Cruz seems to have enjoyed a bit of a rebound since then; the latest UT survey, from June 2018, gives him a 41 percent favorable rating and a 42 percent unfavorable rating. But that showing still places him in a potentially vulnerable position as he seeks re-election, even as a Republican incumbent in a Republican state. Indeed, multiple recent polls—including a survey released this afternoon by NBC News—have found Cruz with just a single-digit lead over his Democratic challenger, El Paso congressman Robert "Beto" O'Rourke, who is running an energetic and well-funded, if at times amateurish, campaign. Cruz is still clearly favored to win, but he can't simply coast to a second term—and even a narrow victory would represent an undeniable sign of political weakness, given the massive head start bestowed on any Republican by the strong partisan lean of the Texas electorate.

Buzzfeed's recent profile of O'Rourke revealed that the Democrat's campaign "proudly employs no pollsters or traditional consultants," which seems like a very odd thing to be proud of. Cruz, presumably, has not adopted such a policy. Indeed, the visible change in his public behavior since returning to the Senate from the presidential campaign trail two years ago suggests a deliberate shift in strategy informed by direct evidence of declining popularity back in his home state. Once best known for delivering floor speeches blasting the Republican leadership as sellouts to conservatism and for leading the right wing of his party into procedural confrontations on behalf of ideological causes, Cruz has been a fairly quiet senator for a while now. In some ways, the Cruz of the new TV spot, bringing home the federal bacon to Texas with a hug and a smile, is just the latest version of a personal reinvention that began even before O'Rourke emerged as a viable challenger.

Such a change of course may only confirm the suspicions of critics—like many of his eye-rolling Senate colleagues—who found Cruz's previous persona as a tireless defender of sacred principles to be merely the product of transparently insincere and self-serving calculation. But all politicians must change with the times or risk defeat. Lindsey Graham was once one of the fellow senators most frequently infuriated by Cruz's behavior, calling him "at his core . . . an opportunist" among many other pejoratives. Of course, Graham also trashed Donald Trump in the press for months, but has more recently become one of the president's golf partners. In politics, opportunism is less an occupational hazard than a virtual inevitability.

Cruz has ultimately found himself in the same place as many other Republicans, struggling to adapt to the massive changes that have occurred since Obama gave way to Trump—both within the Republican Party and in the larger political climate. Some Republican members of Congress, such as many of Cruz's former Capitol Hill allies in the House Freedom Caucus, have become enthusiastic supporters of their new party leader; a few others have voiced open criticism (usually on route to departure from office). But most Republican politicians have cautiously stayed in the middle, calibrating their words and actions to satisfy the conservative activist base without staking their own public reputation on Trump's behavior. Once an attention-grabbing insurgent within his party, Cruz has become one more Republican hoping to be among the survivors of the high winds whipped up by this season's political hurricane.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Few Political Consequences of the Democratic Surge Among College-Educated Whites

The Pew Research Center recently released an informative report on the composition of the American electorate, based on a survey of citizens whose electoral participation (or lack thereof) in 2016 was confirmed by matching their names to state voter turnout records. High-quality studies like those conducted by Pew provide more reliable information on the distribution of attributes within the voting public than the more commonly-cited (but less methodologically sound) national exit polls, and thus any discrepancies between them are usually best resolved in favor of the former.

For example, exit polls can overestimate the degree of educational attainment in the electorate. In 2016, the national exit poll found, improbably, that a full 50 percent of voters had earned at least a bachelor's degree, with just 18 percent reporting no more than a high school education. The new Pew study estimates that the true figures are the following: 37 percent with a BA degree or more, 34 percent with college experience short of a four-year degree, and 30 percent with a high school diploma or less—much closer to a rough three-way split among the no, some, and completed college categories than an even divide between four-year college graduates and non-grads.

But if the true proportion of college graduates in the voting public was smaller than the exit polls indicated, these voters also seem to have preferred Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump much more decisively than the exit pollsters believed. The national exit poll estimated that Clinton had prevailed over Trump by 52 percent to 42 percent among all four-year college graduates, narrowly losing white college grads by a margin of 48 percent to 45 percent and carrying white female grads by 7 points (51 percent to 44 percent). According to the Pew researchers, however, Clinton outpolled Trump by a full 21 points (57 percent to 36 percent) among all college graduates, by 17 points (55 percent to 38 percent) among white grads, and by 26 points (61 percent to 35 percent) among white female grads.

The Pew figures aren't likely to be precisely correct; sampling error and other methodological limitations apply to them as well. But they surely come closer than the exit poll data to the true values within the American population. Since pre-election surveys and other forms of evidence indicate that Trump carried non-college-grad whites overwhelmingly (perhaps by as much as 40 points), the most logical way to account for the fact that Clinton outran Trump by 2.8 million popular votes nationwide is to assume that she prevailed among the college/post-grad sector of the electorate by a comfortable margin. In fact, Clinton is almost certainly the first Democratic presidential candidate in modern history to win more votes from white college graduates than the Republican opposition.

This achievement undoubtedly reflects the limits of Trump's appeal among college-educated voters more than any special devotion to Clinton. But the Democratic Party was evolving even before 2016 to become more dependent on the votes of racial minorities, young adults, and highly-educated professionals (the "Obama coalition") while relinquishing much of its previous electoral support among non-college-educated whites to the GOP. Moreover, recent opinion polls and the results of special elections indicate that the pro-Democratic shift among white college graduates evident in the 2016 contest has survived into 2017 and 2018, suggesting that the Democratic leanings of these voters will endure for at least as long as Trump is the leader of the Republican Party.

What are the implications of a newfound preference for Democrats within this formerly majority-Republican sector of the electorate? Here are a few areas of American politics that will be measurably affected by such a change:

1. Geography. Because educational attainment is not evenly distributed across geographic boundaries, the places where each party can expect to win votes will evolve along with the demographic composition of their voter coalitions. In general, we can expect the growing partisan divide between increasingly "blue" large metropolitan areas and securely "red" small towns, a trend explored in my recent book Red Fighting Blue: How Geography and Electoral Rules Polarize American Politics, to persist into the future. This will help Democratic candidates in high-education suburbs where a number of vulnerable Republican-held House seats are located, such as those actively contested this year in greater New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and Los Angeles. But most of these places already vote Democratic at the state level, while the erosion of Democratic support among non-college whites endangers the party's Senate prospects in states like Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota. As a result, it's quite possible that the midterm elections this year will result in a majority-making Democratic "wave" of 25 seats or more in the House while simultaneously preserving, or even strengthening, Republican control of the Senate.

2. Participation. Level of educational attainment is always a powerful predictor, and often the most powerful predictor, of citizens' propensity for political engagement. Participatory activities that go beyond merely voting for president every four years—from turning out in midterm and primary elections to volunteering for campaigns, making monetary contributions, and organizing political events and groups—are all disproportionately the domain of the highly-educated. Democrats already appear to be benefiting this year from the energetic mobilization of metropolitan professionals, which has led to both a rise of political networking at the local level and a cascade of individual financial donations to Democratic candidates. In contrast, one of the biggest unanswered questions as we look forward to the 2018 midterms is whether the Republican Party will succeed in motivating the non-college-grad whites who supported Trump in heavy numbers two years ago to turn out at sufficient rates in a non-presidential election when Trump himself is not on the ballot.

3. Candidate Recruitment. Whites with college degrees are a minority of the total electorate, but they always constitute a large majority of the pool of candidates for federal and state office. A partisan shift among this population therefore influences the relative supply of strong candidates within each party's activist base. The particular antipathy to Trump evident among college-educated women in the Pew data helps to account for an unprecedented spike in the number of female candidates on the Democratic side in 2018, and the desire to send a message of opposition to Trump's behavior seems to have inspired Democratic primary voters to frequently choose these women to be standard-bearers for the party. Through the first 41 states to hold primaries so far this year, 41 percent of all Democratic House nominees this year are women, including 48 percent of all non-incumbent nominees—an astonishing increase over all previous congressional elections:



4. The Polarization of Education Policy. Education has not always been a strictly partisan or ideologically-charged issue. Past Republican presidents like George W. Bush adopted ambitious education initiatives in order to bolster their appeal among suburban moderates, while state governors and legislators of both parties have often viewed the authorization of ample K-12 and public university funding as both economically and politically advantageous. But there are signs that this bipartisan consensus is coming apart. In recent years, Republican governors in Kansas and Oklahoma have enacted ambitious tax reductions that required deep offsetting decreases to local education aid, while GOP legislators in Wisconsin have targeted state universities for budget cuts and other restrictions. In addition, conservative media sources now repeatedly direct sharp criticism at the American educational system, often describing universities as bastions of intolerant leftism and mocking college students as hopelessly coddled "snowflakes."

If highly-educated voters continue to drift toward the Democrats, a key constituency that might be expected to serve as an internal base of resistance against these policies will lose its current degree of influence within the Republican Party—which may well only further reinforce the trend of growing polarization. Trump has not made education a presidential priority, and his appointment of the controversial Betsy DeVos as secretary of education has done little to bolster his popular standing on the issue. But while Republicans may pay an electoral price in the short term due to the countermobilization of concerned parents and outraged teachers, the prospect of a perpetual partisan war over the value of American education ultimately threatens the interests of educators much more than those of politicians.