The legal imbroglios of Donald Trump have lately dominated conversation about the 2024 election. As primary season grinds on, campaign activity will wax and wane, and issues of the moment — like the first Trump indictment and potentially others to come — will blaze into focus and then disappear.
Yet certain fundamentals will shape the races as candidates strategize about how to win the White House. To do this, they will have to account for at least one major political realignment: educational attainment is the new fault line in American politics.
Educational attainment has not replaced race in that respect, but it is increasingly the best predictor of how Americans will vote, and for whom. It has shaped the political landscape and where the 2024 presidential election almost certainly will be decided. To understand American politics, candidates and voters alike will need to understand this new fundamental.
Americans have always viewed education as a key to opportunity, but few predicted the critical role it has come to play in our politics. What makes the “diploma divide,” as it is often called, so fundamental to our politics is how it has been sorting Americans into the Democratic and Republican Parties by educational attainment. College-educated voters are now more likely to identify as Democrats, while those without college degrees — especially white Americans, but increasingly others as well — are now more likely to support Republicans.
The impact of education on voting has an economic as well as a cultural component. The confluence of rising globalization, technological developments and the offshoring of many working-class jobs led to a sorting of economic fortunes, a widening gap in the average real wealth between households led by college graduates compared with the rest of the population, whose levels are near all-time lows.
According to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, since 1989, families headed by college graduates have increased their wealth by 83 percent. For households headed by someone without a college degree, there was relatively little or no increase in wealth.
Culturally, people’s educational attainment increasingly correlates with their views on a wide range of issues like abortion, attitudes about L.G.B.T.Q. rights and the relationship between government and organized religion. It also extends to cultural consumption (movies, TV, books), social media choices and the sources of information that shape voters’ understanding of facts. [Continue reading…]