Talking Points

Free college is how Democrats could actually rig elections

"The Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan of illegal aliens into our country," then-President Donald Trump said at a rally shortly before the 2018 midterm elections. "And they want to sign them up for free health care," he continued," plus "free welfare, free education, and for the right to vote."

That last bit — that Democrats support looser immigration policies or even illegal immigration because they believe immigrant votes will help them win elections — has become a common Republican accusation. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was recorded making essentially the same argument in a call with state lawmakers earlier this year. A voting bill in Congress has the sole objective of "ensur[ing] that Democrats can never again lose another election," Cruz said, and that objective will be achieved in part by allowing "illegal aliens" to vote.

There are many problems with this claim, including that Trump gained support in 2020 in "many areas with large populations of Latinos and residents of Asian descent, including ones with the highest numbers of immigrants," and that there is no good reason to believe any significant number of noncitizens vote in federal elections.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that Democrats are attempting a grand conspiracy to illicitly grow their voter rolls via some apparently unrelated federal policy. If so, they may have a better option than immigration law: college. Not post hoc loan forgiveness, but tuition-free education or enticements to enroll.

The persistent stereotype in U.S. politics is that party splits run along income lines: Rich people are Republicans, while poor and working-class people plus a tiny but visible media elite are Democrats. That was roughly fair decades ago, but it's not anymore. Now, the big divide is education. In most Western democracies, it's education plus income, but here in the States, education matters most:

Five decades ago, high-education voters leaned right and low-education voters left. That pattern is now reversed. 

This phenomenon is called the "diploma divide," and it's been widening for a while, especially among white Americans. It grew again in 2020. There's no simple causal relationship between going to college and voting for Democrats, of course, but there's a strong enough correlation to suggest expanded college access would mean more Democratic votes.