NEW YORK, NY — The Democrat Party has gone from a party of the “working class” to a party of educated whites and non-college-educated racial and ethnic minorities. This transition came to a head in 2020 when, for the first time on record, the college-educated white share (27.3%) of self-identified Democrats exceeded that of non-college-educated whites (25.2%). The other majority, non-college-educated non-whites, comprised 32.8%.
In a new report for the Manhattan Institute, Paulson Policy Analyst Zach Goldberg posits that relatively recent and rapid growth in the secular realignment of college-educated whites with the Democratic Party is functioning to exacerbate enduring socioeconomic disparities between white and non-white (non-Asian) Democrats. And owing to the link between socioeconomic status and political engagement, this trend also threatens to exacerbate inequalities in political influence.
What kind of influence might that be? And how does it threaten to disadvantage non-white party members? Goldberg suggests that white Democrats’ higher levels of political attention, sophistication, and participation afford them the ability to exercise outsized influence over the rhetoric of party leaders, the issues to which they speak, and the selection of candidates. More specifically, educated white individuals are more socially progressive and more likely to prioritize post-material moral concerns over the kitchen-table issues far more relevant to many working-class non-white Democrats. So then as less educated whites are replaced by college-educated whites, those in the latter subset can sustain if not grow their representation among politically active Democrats even as the white share of the party steadily declines—effectively “upstaging” the non-white racial/ethnic groups who were traditionally expected to be the face of the future Democratic Party.
This isn’t to say that white Democrats will always “get their way” or that they are capable of singlehandedly dictating outcomes, only that they have a better chance of having their preferences and priorities reflected therein. Thus, if not costing them elections, the result of outsized college-educated white voter influence is the nomination of candidates who are—or who are pressured and incentivized to be—far more socially progressive than would be the case with proportional constituent input. The consequence is legislative time and energy spent on niche progressive causes, programs, and amendments that are likely to polarize the chambers and produce congressional gridlock.