Republicans have actually grown their advantage among white voters who do not have a college degree. They now hold a 24-point party ID edge with that group. In 2015, the GOP held a 21-point lead with them.But among whites with a college degree, the numbers have moved sharply in the other direction. Democrats and Republicans drew equal support among that group in 2015, 47 percent identified with each party. But in the latest data whites with a college degree leaned Democratic by 12 points.
Many of those college-educated voters are the “suburban white women” you keep hearing about, who voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in 2018. That gender gap has widened into a canyon. (In 2015, Democrats had a 12-point advantage with women; now Democrats have a 18-point lead.) Simply put, the anti-science, white grievance, bully-boy politics of the Republican Party under President Trump turns off people who do not want to be viewed as uneducated, racist or mean. It turns out that is a very broad coalition.
The policy shift also favors Democrats. For the first time, you have a significant majority of white Americans who think there is a need for systemic change. Coupled with the preference of most Americans for more government (spurred in part by the need for government action to battle the coronavirus and the ensuing economic recession), the party that is aligned with addressing racial inequity and that believes government can be a force for good has a huge advantage. Republicans anti-government ethos is entirely ill-suited to the time.
Democrats may have the voters and the ideological consensus not only to win big in November (a sweep of the House and Senate majorities and the White House is a distinct possibility) but also to drive a progressive agenda on criminal justice, health care, economic opportunity and education. Democrats will need to address several issues if they are to not only win big but also govern boldly.
First, I suspect the Senate filibuster is on thinner ice than ever before. If Democrats win big (claiming the White House and the Senate majority), they will be in no mood to see an entire agenda stymied by a minority of senators from red states. I personally have grave reservations about doing away with the filibuster, but concern about minority rights is likely to be subsumed by enthusiasm for an aggressive agenda, one that might include some systemic changes in voting rights (automatic registration, voting by mail available in all 50 states, an end to voter ID laws, etc.) that would help Democrats down the road.
Second, if Democrats want to pass their proposals and lock in Democratic majorities for decades (as Franklin D. Roosevelt did), they will need to hold to the center-left where, not coincidentally, former vice president Joe Biden put himself. The public wants reform and change, but it is far from clear whether they want a radical agenda. Expanding Obamacare rather than doing away with it, creating a tax reform bill that undoes the excesses of the Trump era and equalizes the rates for capital gains and salary income, offering free community college tuition and advocating significant reforms in policing, sentencing and pot legalization would gain broad support. The Democrats will run into trouble if they put their energies into items such as single-payer health care. They have a narrow window to do real things; overreaching risks them getting very little.
Third, the pandemic itself cleared the way for progress on a raft of issues: paid sick leave, subsidized child care and distance learning. In some cases, these items require expansion of infrastructure (e.g., universally accessible broadband). Even Republicans may finally see that you cannot have a healthy population without paid sick leave or a robust labor market without child care.
Democrats must win and win big in November if they hope to gather support for what may amount to a new New Deal. If they play their cards right, they can have as dramatic an effect on the scope of government and on the electoral landscape as did the original New Deal.