Are We Watching the Development of Clinton Republicans?

Trump could be pushing college-educated conservatives to the left.

For the last 30 years, some Democrats have been consumed with the question of how the party can go about winning back the so-called “Reagan Democrats.” Who knew that while they were doing so, the Republican Party would be devolving to the point that someone like Asma Khalid asks the question: are we seeing the development of what we might, in the future, call “Clinton Republicans?”

In the last presidential election, Barack Obama lost the college-educated white voters by 14 points. But now Clinton is winning this same group by about 8.7 points, according to an average of the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal, CNN/ORC and ABC/Washington Post polls.

To be clear, it is not just Obama that lost college-educated white voters – that has been a trend for Democrats over the last half-century. The fact that Clinton is winning them is historic.

The next question is whether or not this is simply a Trump phenomenon or will continue into the future. In other words, is this a major party realignment or simply the reaction to one candidate? Anyone who suggests that they know the answer to that has access to a crystal ball that I am missing. But I would suggest that there are two significant developments that are worth watching.

First of all, Donald Trump’s presidential nomination didn’t simply spring up out of whole cloth. As I pointed out yesterday, it has it’s roots in the Republican’s Southern Strategy, combined with their recent use of racism and nativism to stir up their efforts to de-legitimize the presidency of Barack Obama. The Republican embrace of post-policy paved the way for the candidacy of Donald Trump. Will they continue that strategy after he loses? That remains to be seen. But they’ve stirred up his supporters – who aren’t likely to go away once this election is over. In other words, the great Republican divide will still be with us after November. How that will affect the party affiliation of white college-educated voters is something to keep an eye on.

Secondly, as Khalid points out:

Millennials, the youngest generation of voters, have grown up and now rival baby boomers as a political force — with an estimated 69.2 million eligible voters, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Millennials lean left and are the most educated demographic to date, and they are an increasingly large share of the overall white college-educated bloc…

Polling shows that white millennials are skeptical of a Trump presidency. So as those voters get older, unless they change their political attitudes drastically, the Democratic Party may have an inherent advantage in future elections.

As the latest USA Today/Rock the Vote poll shows, Hillary Clinton is beating Donald Trump by 36 points (no, that’s not a typo) with voters under 35. On whether or not millennials will change their political attitudes as they get older, Republicans are likely to try to find comfort in the old adage about people getting more conservative as they age. But it turns out that’s not true. Pew Research has looked at that and found the following:

The clearest pattern is that younger voters who turned 18 during the presidencies of Clinton, Bush or Obama –the younger members of Gen X and the Millennial generation – have typically voted much more Democratic than the average. In contrast, voters who turned 18 during the Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr. presidencies –much of Generation X and younger Baby Boomers– have voted somewhat more Republican than the average.

The picture is less clear for older generations. Those who turned 18 during the Nixon administration – a segment of older Baby Boomers – have tended to be slightly more Democratic than average in their voting. Those who came of age during the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson years – mostly members of the Silent generation and the very oldest of the Baby Boomers –have tended to be more Republican than the average, especially in 2008.

The Greatest generation is dwindling in numbers, but at least until recently their Democratic tendencies were still evident. Voters who turned 18 during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt consistently voted more Democratic than average.

In other words, the events that shaped politics when you came of voting age tend to affect voting behavior over the long term. That is precisely why former Bush aide Michael Gerson laments the possibility that “Trump may cost the GOP a generation of voters.”

If college-educated whites continue to favor Democrats in the future, I don’t know whether they’ll be called “Clinton Republicans.” But it will certainly signal the kind of realignment that we saw happen with Reagan Democrats.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.