There's one demographic that supported Mitt Romney, has gone Republican for decades, and might help take down Donald Trump. It's college-educated white voters. If Hillary Clinton were to win the group, it would be for the first time in forever — or at least, since 1952 — that these voters supported a Democratic candidate. This means this one surprising demographic has a lot of political power, especially when it comes to stopping Trump's presidency.
This is all according to a new poll by Bloomberg which showed an 11-point lead for Clinton with the white, college-educated demographic. Even in comparison with 2012, that's a huge difference. Exit polls showed Romney winning them by 14 percent. Romney took home 56 percent of this demographic, compared with just the 42 percent that went for Obama. Looking at the new numbers, Clinton may not invert that, but the difference could still be enough to tilt the election. A Washington Post / ABC News Poll in June showed her leading 50 percent to 42 percent; the Bloomberg poll ups her lead to 48 percent over 37 percent.
In 2012 exit polls, a whopping 72 percent of the electorate was white, and 47 percent of voters had a college degree or higher. So this is a rather large portion we're talking about — more than a third of the electorate, according to the AP. Plus, David Wasserman of FiveThirtyEight reported that this group's share of the electorate increases by one percentage point every four years (at the expense of non-college-educated whites).
The pollster who ran the survey, Doug Usher, explained its significance to Bloomberg Politics:
It's extremely hard for any presidential candidate to win an election conceding double-digit deficits among segments of the electorate that their party has competed for and won in the past. This poll indicates that Trump might be doing just that.
Breaking down the group a bit more, and you can clearly see that the gender gap still exists. Clinton actually loses college-educated white men by one percentage point; Trump's ahead 42 percent to 41 percent. But with women, Clinton soars, with 54 percent to 33 percent. It's here where she has built most of her lead. She also performs better the higher education level of the voter. Some 61 percent of those with postgraduate studies lend their support to her, compared with just 27 percent for Trump.
Obviously, this is not the only group to throw its weight behind Clinton. There are many that do so at as high (or even higher) rates. For example, young people have said that Trump is racist; about two-thirds of those polled by GenForward said so. Back in April, a Harvard University Institute of Politics poll showed voters 18 to 29 would back Clinton 61 percent to just 25 percent with Trump. You could argue the young are the key group to take down Trump, too.
But with demographic groups like the young, LGBT, women, or black voters, that's not so surprising. They tend to skew Democratic, and supported Obama by large margins. So to be clear, college-educated whites are not key to winning — at least, not to the same degree as groups already among the "Obama coalition." If black voters, for example, were to turn out at 2004 rates, or not support Clinton by the overwhelming numbers we have been seeing, she could potentially lose.
What makes the support of Clinton among this particular demographic group of college-educated whites so interesting and surprising is their Republican-leaning history. Ronald Brownstein for The Atlantic covered the interesting history of white voters back in May. In 1952, the first year that exit poll data was available, and every presidential election year since, college-educated whites have gone for the Republican option.
This is not a polling anomaly. Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight covered the trend, showing that an average of the recent polls show Trump about 6 percentage points behind Clinton with this group. We could see this play out on the Electoral College map as well, according to an argument put forward by several writers at Bloomberg Politics. They noted that states like Colorado and Virginia could see a boost because of their high level of college grads, but other swing states like Ohio or Iowa, where fewer whites have college degrees, could be tougher for Clinton.
It will be fascinating to see how exactly this plays out, but meanwhile, you can expect that one more subset of the American electorate will end up supporting Clinton and not Trump.