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How College-Educated Whites Are Polarizing And Fracturing The Democratic Party


Elizabeth Warren’s rise in the polls (and Joe Biden’s stumbles) will start obscuring what the first eight months of the presidential primary campaign revealed to many: the Democratic Party is fractured along lines of ideology, identity, and age (if age is not a subset of identity). A new survey suggests college-educated whites are driving fissures into the Democratic rank-and-file.

Even before the presidential cycle started in earnest, it was becoming apparent that Democrats have an “upstairs / downstairs” coalition, in which a relatively small elite drive policy in ways that do not always serve the interests of the party’s traditional working-class base.

The large-scale “Hidden Tribes“ survey conducted by the left-leaning More in Common group suggested “progressive activists”—the furthest-left 8 percent of Americans—were more white than all but the most conservative 6 percent of Americans. A follow-up study showed progressive activists have among the most distorted views of their political rivals.

Moreover, “Democrats’ understanding of Republicans actually gets worse with every additional degree they earn. This effect is so strong that Democrats without a high school diploma are three times more accurate than those with a postgraduate degree.”

White progressives have similar, if lesser, problems with their fellow Democrats. In the wake of the “Great Awokening,” white liberals have moved to the left of the black Democrats on some racial issues. The schism extends to other issues, including Israel, immigration, and gender identity.

These previous studies and polls left open the question of how big the divergence was between the median Democrat and the party’s far-left, disproportionately white elites. Echelon Insights, a political research and intelligence firm, recently conducted a survey matched against voter files that begins to lift the curtain further on whether and how the “Great Awokening” has affected Democrats overall.

Echelon created a “social and cultural values index,” based on Democratic and Republican responses to eight questions regarding immigration, marijuana legalization, the death penalty, abortion, reparations for slavery, and LGBTQ issues. By this measure, college-educated white Democrats (at -50.9) are further to the left than “Trump Republicans” are to the right (at 48.9).

They are further to the left than Democratic primary voters (at -37.1) and donors (at 44.4). And college-educated white Democrats are more than twice as far to the left as black (-24.6) or Latino (-24.3) Democrats are. Minority Democrats are much closer to the index score for non-college whites (-21).

The Echelon survey also reveals that Democrats are much less unified in their views on these social and cultural questions. For example, on the question of reparations, non-college white Dems largely oppose them (scoring 54 on the index), white college Dems less so (scoring 14), Latino Dems barely supporting them (at -2), and black Dems strongly supporting reparations (at -55). In contrast, Republicans overwhelmingly oppose reparations (all groups scoring in the 80s).

Various splits also arise on other issues in the index. White college and Latino Democrats oppose a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, while non-college whites and blacks mildly support one. White college Dems strongly oppose requiring transgender people to use bathrooms matching their birth sex, while black Dems mildly support it. And white college Dems are the only group opposed to the death penalty for murderers.

Echelon further asked Democrats how concerned they were about issues beyond those in the index, disclosing further splits between white college Dems and other demographics. President Trump’s policies are of extreme concern to 77 percent of white college Democrats, but only 58 percent of black Democrats. (There is a roughly similar split on “Trump’s offensive tweets.”) Climate change is of extreme concern to 71 percent of white college Democrats, while only 38 percent of black Democrats feel that way.

Conversely, 69 percent of black Democrats are extremely concerned about gun violence; a bit surprisingly, only 53 percent of college-educated whites agree. Seventy-three percent of black Dems are extremely concerned by police brutality, as opposed to 37 of college white Dems (and only 33 percent of white non-college Dems). Indeed, on the general topic of racism, 69 percent of black Dems are extremely concerned, while only 56 percent of white college Dems are (and a mere 40 percent of white non-college Dems).

Obviously, we should not read too much into the results of a single survey. But along with some prior polling, it appears that college-educated white Democrats as a group are much less woke than the party’s elites on racism and other issues of importance to black Democrats. This finding may support the theory that the “Great Awokening” among progressive elites is a phenomenon associated with (and perhaps driven by) Twitter and other forms of social media. But these results are in tension with prior polling regarding white liberals and bear further exploration.

More broadly, Echelon’s results suggest that college-educated white Democrats are the demographic most responsible for pushing the party leftward, particularly on social and cultural issues and “resisting” President Trump. They are an outlier within the Democratic Party, let alone the general electorate.

Given that the Democrats’ current electoral strategies are aimed more at college-educated whites than non-college whites, the party’s schisms are likely to continue in the medium-term.