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What’s Behind the Increased White Flight to the Republican Party


It’s not primarily poor or struggling whites suffering from intense economic anxiety:

In less than a decade, from 2010 to 2018, whites without a college degree grew from 50 to 59 percent of all the Republican Party’s voters, while whites with college degrees fell from 40 to 29 percent of the party’s voters. The biggest shift took place from 2016 to 2018, when Trump became the dominant figure in American politics.

This movement of white voters has been evolving over the past 60 years. A paper published earlier this month, “Secular Partisan Realignment in the United States: The Socioeconomic Reconfiguration of White Partisan Support since the New Deal Era,” provides fresh insight into that transformation.


Perhaps most significant, Kitschelt and Rehm found that the common assumption that the contemporary Republican Party has become crucially dependent on the white working class — defined as whites without college degrees — is overly simplistic.

Instead, Kitschelt and Rehm find that the surge of whites into the Republican Party has been led by whites with relatively high incomes — in the top two quintiles of the income distribution — but without college degrees, a constituency that is now decisively committed to the Republican Party.

According to the census, the top two income quintiles in 2017 were made up of those with household incomes above $77,552. More than half of the voters Kitschelt and Rehm describe as high income are middle to upper middle class, from households making from $77,522 to $130,000 — not, by contemporary standards, wealthy.

I like this formulation:

In the longer term, Republicans are in trouble because “people doing pretty well economically despite not having college degrees” are becoming unicorns:

But in the short term, Trump’s mobilization of white identity politics is a potent way of reaching these voters that won’t be easy to counter.

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