By Sharon Bernstein and Chris Kahn
Older, white, educated voters helped Donald Trump win the White House in 2016. Now, they are trending towards Democrats in such numbers that their ballots could tip the scales in tight congressional races from New Jersey to California, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll and a data analysis of competitive districts shows
Nationwide, whites over the age of 60 with college degrees now favour Democrats over Republicans for Congress by a 2-point margin, according to Reuters/Ipsos opinion polling during the first three months of the year. During the same period in 2016, that same group favoured Republicans for Congress by 10 percentage points. (Graphic)
The 12-point swing is one of the largest shifts in support towards Democrats that the Reuters/Ipsos poll has measured over the past two years. If that trend continues, Republicans will struggle to keep control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate, in the November elections, potentially dooming President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda.
“The real core for the Republicans is white, older white, and if they’re losing ground there, they’re going to have a tsunami,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist who closely tracks political races. “If that continues to November, they’re toast.”
Asked about the swing, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel cited robust fund-raising and said the party would field strong campaigns in battleground states. “We are not taking a single vote for granted,” she said in a statement.
John Camm has been a Republican since the Nixon Administration, but the 63-year-old Tucson accountant says he will likely support a Democrat for Congress in November. He is splitting with his party over access to health insurance as well as its recent overhaul of the nation’s income tax system. He also supports gun control measures that the party has rejected.
“I’m a moderate Republican, and yet my party has run away from that,” Camm said. “So give me a moderate Democrat.”
Camm is not alone in his worries about healthcare. The number of educated older adults choosing “healthcare” in the Reuters/Ipsos poll as their top issue nearly tripled over the past two years, from 8 percent to 21 percent. The poll did not ask respondents precisely what their concerns about healthcare were.
Typically though, voters’ concerns are varied. Some fear the repealing of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature effort to offer subsidized health insurance to millions of Americans and expand healthcare to the poor. Others cite high prescription drug costs and the high cost of healthcare in general.
(For a graphic, click)
GRAY VOTE MAGNIFIED
The potential impact of any swing to Democrats is magnified given that older, educated adults are reliable voters. They also make up a sizeable portion of the voting population in many districts where elections are close.
How they vote could decide elections in as many as 26 competitive congressional districts where Democrats have a shot at winning a seat. A Reuters analysis of U.S. Census data shows highly educated older voters make up about 5-10 percent of the population in those areas. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to win control of the House of Representatives.
More broadly, older white Americans, regardless of their level of education, are still more likely to vote for Republicans than Democrats, but the Republican advantage with this group has been trimmed by about 5 percentage points when comparing the first quarter of 2018 with the first quarter of 2016.
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