At this early stage of the 2024 presidential race, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are competing for the same Republican primary voters. But looking at the two GOP front-runners’ current supporters, there is one very clear voter characteristic dividing them: education level. Bill Scher explains at Washington Monthly:
If only college graduates could vote in the Republican presidential primary, it would be a competitive contest.
According to the YouGov/Yahoo! News poll, in a college-grad-only race, Donald Trump’s 28-point lead over Ron DeSantis with registered Republican voters would disappear and become a dead heat.
Monmouth University’s numbers show Trump’s 24-point margin would shrink to just 1 point. Likewise, in the Quinnipiac University poll, which has “cross tabs” for white college-educated voters, Trump’s 31-point margin would narrow to just 1 point.
This large education gap between the two dominant candidates is unusual among Republicans. It didn’t exist to this degree in 2008, 2012, or even in 2016, when Trump’s overperformance among non-college-educated Republican voters and underperformance among college grads was apparent but far less dramatic.
Why does the gap exist between two Ivy League–educated politicians with similar policy views? It may simply be a matter of the massive style difference between the crude, lowbrow former president and a Florida governor who has to fight for some populist street cred, as my colleague Jonathan Chait has pointed out:
Unlike Trump, who oozed his way into Republican politics through a combination of instinct and absorbing hours of Fox News, DeSantis came to the conservative movement from the brainy end. His first book articulates a theory that has circulated among elite right-wing economic elites for decades: that redistribution through taxes and spending via the ballot box poses an existential threat to liberty …
More recently, DeSantis seems to have grown fascinated with a different theory that has spread rapidly on the right. It posits that the far left has gained control of the media, schools, entertainment, and even many corporations, from which position it will extend its control over the rest of society … Conservatives believe they must gain control of government and use the power of the state to halt the spread of these radical theories, or else face ideological extinction.
DeSantis, Scher believes, may be a “wine-track” politician, to borrow the term often applied to such Democratic presidential candidates as Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, Howard Dean, Pete Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren: cerebral, reform-oriented politicians who attract the well-educated but tend to leave working-class voters cold. Prior to his MAGA makeover as governor of Florida, DeSantis really did fit the stereotype of the Establishment Republican elitist Trump ran against so effectively in 2016, favoring “entitlement reform,” free trade, “forever wars,” and other old-school conservative totems. And even though he’s now trying to represent Trumpism without Trump, DeSantis still projects a pointy-headed persona, as reflected by his nerdy exchanges with Elon Musk and David Sacks during the technically flawed Twitter Spaces launch of his candidacy.
So will being a “wine-track candidate” damage DeSantis as it has hurt his Democratic counterparts, none of whom won a presidential nomination? That’s not so clear. Despite the reputation of the Trump-era Republican Party as a bastion of the white working class, in 2016, according to the exit polls, a majority of participants in the first three contests were college-educated (52 percent in Iowa, 53 percent in New Hampshire, and 54 percent in South Carolina). And in the GOP, there isn’t a large non-white constituency like the Black and Latino Democrats who seem repelled by their party’s “wine-track” politicians.
None of this may matter, given Trump’s overall lead and his potentially unshakeable support among “beer-track” Republicans (or among teetotaling conservative Evangelicals). DeSantis also is vulnerable to defections to other candidates who are more articulate and less crude than Trump, which is all of them. But DeSantis’s intellectual pretensions really aren’t a bar to his nomination so long as he eschews issue positions and rhetoric that remind MAGA voters of Mitt Romney or the Bush family.
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