Culture Wars/Current Controversies

How the Diploma Divide Is Remaking American Politics Education is at the heart of this country’s many divisions.

By Eric Levitz, New York Magazine

Blue America is an increasingly wealthy and well-educated place.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Americans without college degrees were more likely than university graduates to vote Democratic. But that gap began narrowing in the late 1960s before finally flipping in 2004.

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. Sixty years later, our second Catholic president charted a much different path to the White House, losing non-college-educated whites by a two-to-one margin while securing 60 percent of the college-educated vote. The latest New York Times/Siena poll of the 2022 midterms showed this pattern holding firm, with Democrats winning 55 percent of voters with bachelor’s degrees but only 39 percent of those without.

A more educated Democratic coalition is, naturally, a more affluent one. In every presidential election from 1948 to 2012, white voters in the top 5 percent of America’s income distribution were more Republican than those in the bottom 95 percent. Now, the opposite is true: Among America’s white majority, the rich voted to the left of the middle class and the poor in 2016 and 2020, while the poor voted to the right of the middle class and the rich.

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