But the polls also make clear that Trump’s party is paying a heavy price for his decision to so closely align Republicans with the priorities and resentments of the constituencies most uneasy with what America is becoming. The numbers vary, but Trump rarely attracts even one-third of adults younger than 35. Trump lost minority voters by more than 50 percentage points in 2016 and usually draws support from only about one-fourth of them now. (Still, some Democrats worry he might slightly nudge up his support from 2016 among Black and Latino men.) Among the growing group of adults unaffiliated with any religious tradition, Pew found Biden winning more than seven in 10 voters.
The sharpest movement away from the GOP in the Trump era has come among well-educated white Americans. Until 2016, no Democrat had ever won white voters with a college degree in either the media exit polls (tracing back to the 1970s), or the University of Michigan’s American National Election Studies surveys (extending back to 1952). In 2016, the exit polls showed Trump narrowly carrying these voters, but some other data sources, including the ANES, gave Clinton the edge. Two years later, the midterm exit polls for House races showed Democrats winning college-educated white women comfortably, but losing the men narrowly, putting the party at 53 percent with college-educated white voters overall.
Most of the new polls over the past two weeks show Biden with much higher support: From 57 to 61 percent of college-educated white voters support him. Those numbers are unprecedented—as is Biden’s lead among both college-educated white men and women. As recently as the GOP midterm sweeps of 2010 and 2014, Democrats won only about one-third of college-educated white men. Given these patterns, the tendency of Democrats since 2000 to run better among white Americans with a college education than those without one—what I’ve called “the class inversion”—is on track to reach its all-time peak.
Trump’s appeals to cultural conservatives have compounded his difficulties with those well-educated white voters, GOP strategists I’ve spoken with acknowledge. Tom Davis, a former Republican representative from suburban northern Virginia, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee during his years in the House, told me there’s an audience of suburban white voters “who are disgusted” with the violence during recent protests and the calls to defund the police. But overall, he believes, Trump’s arguments are backfiring. “They’re overplaying this with a blunt force that is not the way to appeal to college-educated people that like to feel they are open-minded and open to diversity,” said Davis, now a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm Holland & Knight.
Nick Gourevitch, a Democratic pollster, agrees. “White-grievance politics reinforces the battle lines of the last three years,” he told me. Which side that helps, he said, depends on whether you believe those battle lines are good or bad for Trump. “I’ve always felt that those battle lines are not good for him and that he doesn’t win with them,” Gourevitch continued. “I don’t think there is any real evidence that this is gaining him anybody other than the people who like him to begin with.”