(Originally published 2022 | 05.26)
Hispanic voters in America are “literally cascading into the Republican Party,” Donald Trump told Fox News earlier this year. Speaking on a call with Turning Point USA, a group that advocates for conservative values on American educational campuses, the former U.S. president also claimed the Republicans were “becoming the party of the worker and the party of just about everybody, frankly.” For all his characteristic hyperbole, Trump was alluding to something real: As The New York Times reported, based on the regular survey it conducts in collaboration with Siena College, “Republicans appear to be making new inroads among nonwhite and working-class voters—perhaps especially Hispanic voters.” In fact, for the first time in the survey series, “Democrats had a larger share of support among white college graduates than among nonwhite voters.” It’s an especially remarkable finding, given that the Democratic Party had “won more than 70 percent of nonwhite voters while losing among white college graduates” in congressional elections just six years ago. This data has reinforced an emerging view among political analysts at mainstream U.S. media outlets that—despite the traditionally common sense that the Republicans disproportionately represent the white and the wealthy, while the Democrats represent the non-white and the non-wealthy—the Republican Party is now becoming a “multi-racial, working-class” coalition. Is that really what’s happening?
Matt Grossmann is a professor of political science at Michigan State University, where he directs the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. Grossmann thinks it’s true that the polarization of America’s white voters along educational lines is clear and likely to continue—and could plausibly spread to non-white voters, particularly Hispanics, over time. But the broader picture he sees is more complicated than the narrative of the Republican Party becoming a “multi-racial, working-class” coalition suggests. After all, the vast majority of non-whites still aren’t voting for Republican candidates, and some of the non–college-educated whites who are voting for them have high incomes, complicating the question of their “class.” Neither is there clear evidence on whether non-whites without college degrees are genuinely moving to the right. But there is evidence, Grossmann says, that more and more people across the American political spectrum are developing their party identities in relation to how they perceive the cultural influence of elite institutions—universities, the media, large corporations—that they associate with progressive values and progressive politics.
Graham Vyse: How do you see support for America’s two political parties shifting along educational lines?
Matt Grossmann: If you’re a white, college-educated voter in America today—or you live somewhere in the U.S. where you’re surrounded by white, college-educated voters—you’re likely to be trending toward the Democratic Party. The opposite’s true of white voters without college degrees. These trends predate Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in 2016, but he certainly accelerated them. It used to be that white, college-educated voters were more likely to vote Republican.
Talking about voters in terms of their education is different from talking about them in terms of their broader “class,” which incorporates their education, income, and occupational status. It’s actually voters with high incomes and low levels of formal education who’re moving right; voters with higher levels of formal education but lower incomes—your quintessential graduate students—are moving left.
Education-based divisions among minority voters in the U.S. are still way more uncertain than some tend to assume. I looked at polling from before the 2020 election, and even when you have adequate samples of Hispanic-American, African-American, and Asian-American voters—and you’re able to differentiate across college-education levels—you don’t see consistent trends in which those voters split by education level. You just don’t see the clear education-based divide among them that you see among white voters. Now, there may have been a shift in 2020, but that hasn’t been sufficiently confirmed by survey work. There was a clear shift between 2016 and 2020 in the overall Hispanic vote, though, which moved toward Republicans while the rest of the country was moving toward the Democrats.
Vyse: What explains that?