Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows while more Americans on the whole are pursuing higher education, those aligning themselves with the Republican party are increasingly less educated.
“In 1994, 39% of those with a four-year college degree (no postgraduate experience) identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party and 54% associated with the Republican Party. In 2017, those figures were exactly reversed.”
Over half of Democrats now have a bachelor's degree, and fewer than 40 percent of Republican voters say the same.
When it comes to voters with graduate degrees, they are even more likely to lean Democratic:
“In 1994, those with at least some postgraduate experience were evenly split between the Democratic and Republican parties. Today, the Democratic Party enjoys a roughly two-to-one advantage in leaned partisan identification. While some of this shift took place a decade ago, postgraduate voters’ affiliation with and leaning to the Democratic Party have grown substantially just over the past few years, from 55% in 2015 to 63% in 2017.”
All of this means that the Republican party increasingly is home to Americans who do not have a college degree. Though the Democratic party drew more Americans with a high school diploma or less education into the early 2000s, according to Pew, that trend has reversed:
“Among those with no more than a high school education, 47% affiliate with the GOP or lean Republican, while 45% identify as Democrats or lean Democratic."
How might these trends affect the GOP in future elections?
The populist messaging that Donald Trump rode into the White House, which focused heavily on white working class Americans, might not take the Republican party too far into the future, particularly as education intersects with an increasingly diverse populace.
The increase in Americans educated beyond high school is expected to continue, particularly among women and people of color -- a group already more inclined to lean and vote Democratic.
It could be increasingly difficult to win sizable numbers of support — and thus elections — from more educated Americans in the future. In recent elections in Virginia, Alabama and elsewhere, the GOP won the white, working-class vote — but, ultimately, the party lost.
Some top GOP officials have attracted attention for their desire to win women and people of color to their party. Perhaps moving forward we'll see more emphasis on what can be done to win the highly educated.