Talking Points

There's a warning sign for Democrats in their California blowout

California Gov. Gavin Newsom easily prevailed in Tuesday's recall election. That's obviously very good for Democrats, who rallied to his side both in the state and nationally, during the final weeks of the contest. But that doesn't mean all the news for the Democrats was encouraging.

If exit poll results are verified by precinct-level data over the coming days and weeks, it will indicate that a recent trend in support for the party has continued and possibly deepened over the past few years. That could spell trouble for the Democratic Party over the coming years.

As Steve Kornacki of NBC News pointed out in a pair of tweets, the composition of Newsom's winning coalition appears to have shifted since he was elected three years ago. Whereas in 2018 he won 59 percent of white voters with a college degree, on Tuesday he looks to have won roughly 68 percent of such voters. Meanwhile, his share of the Hispanic vote has fallen from 64 to 58 percent and his share of the Black vote has gone from 86 to 81 percent. Moreover, Newsom's margin of victory significantly improved relative to 2018 in counties with the highest concentration of white voters with college degrees.

This shift in the composition of the Democratic Party — with it becoming whiter and better educated — won't hurt its prospects in California, a state in which registered Democrats vastly outnumber registered Republicans and independent voters. But elsewhere — nationally and in the rust-belt swing-states of the Midwest — it will likely keep the GOP competitive, preventing the Democrats increasing their margins in Congress and state legislatures.

That's because Americans with college degrees are vastly outnumbered by those without them. A Republican Party that defines itself as standing culturally with the latter group and against the former will have a much larger pool of voters to draw on. That edge will increase further if the educational divide overrides the partisan salience of race and ethnicity, as it is already beginning to do. (College degree-holders are overwhelmingly white.)

A GOP that successfully bills itself as the champion of a multicultural coalition of non-college-educated voters will be difficult to beat in many places.   

We don't yet know if Republicans will be capable of transforming the GOP into a culturally based working-class party. All we can say is that the California exit polls appear to show that just such a transformation, already begun, is continuing apace.