Even with the political winds at their back, Democrats enter the 2018 congressional midterms at a historic geographic disadvantage. They also face demographic hurdles: Midterm electorates tend to be older and whiter than those that show up in presidential years. That’s part of the reason Republicans picked up so many House and Senate seats in 2010 and 2014.
But there is one crucial demographic dynamic working in Democrats’ favor: The 2018 midterms are poised to feature the most college-educated electorate in American history.
Almost exactly eight years ago, I argued that Democrats were in deep danger because 2010 could be the “Year of the Angry White Senior.” The premise was simple: Midterm elections had always skewed toward older voters, but never before had there been such a generational divide. In 2008, Barack Obama carried voters 18 to 29 by 34 percentage points but lost seniors by 8 points — a whopping 42-point gulf. Sure enough, Democrats’ young base stayed home in the midterms, and they lost 63 House seats.
Eight years later, there’s an analogous dynamic working the opposite way. Midterms have always skewed toward college-educated voters, but never before has there been such an educational divide, particularly among whites. In 2016, exit polls found that Donald Trump carried white voters with a college degree by just 3 percentage points, but won whites without a college degree by 37 points — a massive 34-point gap. By contrast, this gap was just 14 points in 2008.
This leaves Republicans dangerously exposed. Just as Obama’s legions of young supporters failed to show up at the polls for Democrats in 2010 and 2014, Trump’s base of whites without college degrees could leave the GOP stranded in 2018.
Sure, it's possible, especially if the Mueller investigation turns up massive corruption on the part of the Trump regime and then congressional Republicans do precisely nothing about it. A lot could happen in the next 15 months: impeachment recommendations, resignations, war, illness, an event we haven't anticipated yet.
But all things being the same, I just don't buy this for a second.
The majority of college-educated white voters still voted for Trump knowing full well what he was going to try to do. They still voted for the same GOP-controlled Congress that they voted for in 2010 and 2012 even as many of them pulled the lever for Obama then and for Hillary last year. The fact is all the disapproval for Trump in the world doesn't mean that white folks with college degrees are going to stop being overwhelmingly Republican at the local/state/House/Senate level.
They're not going to start voting for the Democrats. If anything, most of them are going to say "Well my reasonable Republican representative/senator is needed more than ever to stand up to Trump like they did on health care" conveniently forgetting that 97% of the GOP voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Dems need to stop chasing them and start turning out the base for midterms, and that would help by giving them a reason to come out. "Stopping Trump" should be enough, but that clearly failed in 2016. That wasn't enough for a lot of people.
Will it be enough in 2018 given all Trump's awfulness?
I don't honestly know and that frightens me.