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.