Respectability Politics Strikes Back: College Degree Holders and the 2016 House

Submitted by Charlie on Thu 27 Oct 2016 - 11:34
Irish Suck - Vote for Duke

"Sir, the polls show you're doing great with voters across the board, except women." - Phillips for President Campaign Manager
"Do they vote?" - Duke Phillips
"Yes. We do." - Alice Tompkins
"Really? Well, what about the Irish?" - Duke Phillips
"Them too." - Alice Tompkins
"Uh-oh, better change these posters." - Duke Phillips

There has been a slight downturn in the House generic ballot since last week, with the Pollster average down to 4.6% and the RCP average at just 3.8%. (Remember, the magic number is 7.0%, but the 2012 polls understated the eventual Democratic vote by a point or two, so anything north of 5.0% is possible, and north of 6.0% is outright good.) However, there's a wrinkle that needs a lot more attention than its getting: Trump's collapse with college educated white voters.

Non-college whites have been the belle of this year's ball, with seemingly every reporter, pundit, and blogger writing about them. Minority voters have been under-covered (as usual), but there are only so many ways to write "brown people don't like Trump for lots and lots of very good reasons". But the biggest historical anomaly in this year's polls is the abandonment of the Republicans by white voters with college degrees.

White degree holders have been reliable Republican votes since time immemorial (or at least since modern polling got figured out). These are small business owners, dentists, engineers, office managers, etc., work-a-day white collar folks who want their taxes low, don't care much about social issues, and fear terrorism and crime with abandon. They've been trending away from the GOP for years as the Republicans increasingly became the "stupid party", but 2016 has seen the bottom fall out. 

In 2012, Romney won college educated whites by about 14 points (+21 with college educated men, and +7 with college educated women). This year, college educated women are heavily backing Clinton, and college educated men are frequently drawing even, which means this once reliable Republican voting bloc has crumbled. The ABC tracking poll that debuted Sunday is fairly typical of ones I've seen this year: Clinton is +32 with college women, and dead even with college men (0), for a total of +16 overall.

The big unknown for the House is how much of that flaming Trump wreckage is going to translate down to individual district races. In the absence of publicly available House polling, we've got to make some guesses, but the best place to start is the Census bureau's demographic information on House districts. Pulling from that, I've generated a spreadsheet with all the Republican held House districts that are rated as competitive by Kos, Cook, Rothernberg & Gonzales, and Larry Sabato, plus a few that were closer than they maybe should have been in 2012 or 2014. Sorting by highest percentage of people with a college degree, you get this:

Stay in school, kids, the you won't vote for fascistic loons.

If we're going to get a majority (unlikely but not impossible) or make serious inroads and get their majority to <10 seats (looking better all the time), some of these listed as Lean or Likely Republican should be ripe for the plucking. The national average for college degrees is 33%, so anything north of that is bad for Trump and (hopefully) bad for the Republican on the ballot as well. The big target at the top of that list is VA-10, which is a very Republican district that is nevertheless seriously in the mix this year because it's full of people with four year degrees.

But it's the races listed as Leaning Republican, Likely Republican, and "N/A" (which means they're considered Safe) that we need to keep an eye on. Trump is likely to do worst in these heavily college educated districts than elsewhere, but these races are still friendly to Trump for other reasons (primarily that they're wealthier and whiter). However, IF (1) there really is a wave going against the Republicans across the board, and IF (2) Republican turnout is down generally, and IF (3) that wave crests among college educated white people (which polling indicates is likely), then these are the districts that are most likely to tip the House (or at least get us close enough to pass better legislation than has been possible since the 2010 disaster).

So if districts like VA-10 and NJ-05 go Blue early on Election Night, that's a very good sign. If districts like MI-11 and PA-06 don't get called quickly, that's also a very good sign.

Beyond this year, these numbers are also going to be the first piece of data we get about whether or not becoming the party of Trump and stupidity has hurt the Republicans once Trump is off the stage. If it's a Trump blip, then in 2018 and 2020, college educated white people will return to their old ways. If Trump isn't a blip, but rather the hair plugs that broke the camel's back, then these patterns will remain, and suburban Republicans will find their prospects a lot dimmer than they used to be for years to come.