Explainer

Demographics of the American Election

White voters with and without a degree, women and Latinos will probably determine the outcome.

Donald Trump supporters
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump has lost support across demographics since 2016. The president is down with white voters and voters of color; men and women; Catholics and Jews; millennials and boomers.

National polls give the Republican an average of just 42 percent support against 52 percent for Joe Biden.

However, because Democrats cluster in big cities, which are underrepresented in the Electoral College, Biden needs to win by 3 points nationally to have an even chance of winning the election.

Trump’s hope is to keep his losses among four (partially overlapping) constituencies in the states which hold the balance in the Electoral College to a minimum: white voters with and without a college degree, women and Latinos.

College-educated whites

Seven out of ten voters in 2016 were white. How they vote is increasingly defined by how well-educated they are. The majority of white voters with a college degree, who tend to live in cities and suburbs, vote Democratic. The majority of white voters without a degree vote Republican.

Trump won four years ago, when just enough white voters without a degree in Rust Belt states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin left the Democratic Party for him, and not enough white voters with a degree in Sun Belt states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina were willing to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Clinton still bested Trump by 17 points among white college graduates nationally.

They broke for Democrats by 21 points in 2018, when they comprised a third of the midterm electorate.

Biden has a 23-point advantage in the polls this year.

FiveThirtyEight cautions that there are variations by state. Southern whites are more conservative regardless of education, which is why Biden and Trump are neck and neck in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. (Arizona is pro-Biden.)

Non-college whites

Trump accelerated the shift of white voters without a college education (often called the “white working class”) from the Democratic into the Republican Party. They made up close to half the electorate in 2016, but just under 40 percent in 2018.

While Clinton lost this group by more than 20 points, Biden is behind by 8 to 12 points. Which is why industrial states like Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, which were closely contested in 2016, now favor the Democrat.

Women

Only 42-43 percent of white women voted Democratic in 2014 and 2016. They split their vote between the two major parties in 2018 and now favor Biden by 6 points.

Women overall support Biden by 23 points, revealing an even wider gender gap among women of color.

Latinos

Latinos are a growing share of the electorate, particularly in the states that straddle the Mexican border. This has helped Democrats color Colorado and Nevada, former swing state, blue, and it is why Arizona and Texas are no longer safe for Republicans.

Polls suggest between a quarter and a third of Latinos back Trump, which is similar to 2016 and consistent with previous elections.

Discussions about Latino voters often center on immigration. In fact, Latinos — like all Americans — list health care as their priority, young Latinos especially. Churchgoing Latinos, for whom abortion is an important issue, are more likely to vote Republican.

So are Cuban Americans, who make up 29 percent of the Latino electorate in Florida. They believe the Republican Party takes a harder line against the island’s communist regime.

Without Florida, Trump’s chances of winning the election drop from twelve in 100 to one in 100.

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