One of the most significant developments in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election has emerged largely under the radar. From 2016 to 2022, the number of white people without college degrees — the core of Donald Trump’s support — has fallen by 2.1 million.
Over the same period, the number of white people who have graduated from college — an increasingly Democratic constituency — has grown by 13.3 million.
These trends do not bode well for the prospects of Republican candidates, especially Trump. President Biden won whites with college degrees in 2020, 51-48, but Trump won by a landslide, 67-32, among whites without degrees, according to network exit polls.
Even so, there is new data that reflects Trump’s ongoing and disruptive quest for power.
In a paper published last year, “Donald Trump and the Lie,” Kevin Arceneaux and Rory Truex, political scientists at Sciences Po-Paris and Princeton, analyzed 40 days of polling conducted intermittently over the crucial period from Oct. 27, 2020, through Jan. 29, 2021.
The authors found that Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him has had continuing ramifications:
In reaction to the lie, Arceneaux and Truex write, “there was a significant rise in support for violent political activism among Democrats, which only waned after efforts to overturn the election clearly failed.”
Endorsement of the lie pays off for Republicans, Arceneaux and Truex argue: “Republican voters reward politicians who perpetuate the lie, giving Republican candidates an incentive to continue to do so in the next electoral cycle.”
These trends are among the most striking developments setting the stage for the 2024 elections.
Among the additional conditions working to the advantage of Democrats are the increase in Democratic Party loyalty and ideological consistency; the political mobilization of liberal constituencies by adverse Supreme Court rulings; an initial edge in the fight for an Electoral College majority; and the increase in nonreligious voters along with a decline in churchgoing believers.
These and other factors have prompted two Democratic strategists, Celinda Lake and Mike Lux, to declare that “All the elements are in place for a big Democratic victory in 2024.” In “Democrats Could Win a Trifecta in 2024,” a May 9 memo released to the public, the two even voiced optimism over the biggest hurdle facing Democrats, retaining control of the Senate in 2024, when as many as eight Democratic-held seats are competitive while the Republican seats are in solidly red states:
Republican advantages include high rates of crime (although modestly declining in 2023 so far), homelessness and dysfunction in cities run by Democrats; a parents’ rights movement opposed to teaching of so-called critical race theory and gender fluid concepts; and declining public support for gay rights and especially trans rights.
There are, needless to say, a host of uncertainties.
One key factor will be the salience on Election Day of issues closely linked to race in many voters’ minds, including school integration, affordable housing, the end of affirmative action, crime, urban disorder and government spending on social programs. As a general rule, the higher these issues rank in voters’ priorities, the better Republicans do. In that respect, the success of conservatives in barring the use of race in college admissions has taken a Republican issue off the table.
Frances Lee, a political scientist at Princeton, noted in an email that in the “sour environment” of today’s politics, “many voters may be tempted toward a protest vote, and it is likely that there will be some options available for such voters.” It is not clear, Lee added, “what No Labels will do, but the potential there introduces considerable additional uncertainty.”
Asked what factors he would cite as crucial to determining the outcome of the 2024 election, Ray La Raja, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, pointed out by email that
Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory, documents growing Democratic unity in two 2023 papers, “Both White and Nonwhite Democrats are Moving Left” and “The Transformation of the American Electorate.”
As a result of these trends toward intraparty consensus, there has been a steady drop in the percentage of Democratic defections to the opposition, as the party’s voters have become less vulnerable to wedge issue tactics, especially wedge issues closely tied to race.
From 2012 to 2020, Abramowitz wrote in the Transformation paper, “there was a dramatic increase in liberalism among Democratic voters.” As a result of these shifts, he continued, “Democratic voters are now as consistent in their liberalism as Republican voters are in their conservatism.”
Most important, Abramowitz wrote, the
Three Supreme Court decisions handed down in the last week of June — rejecting the Biden administration’s program to forgive student loan debt, affirming the right of a web designer to refuse to construct wedding websites for same-sex couples and ruling unconstitutional the use of race by colleges in student admissions — are, in turn, quite likely to increase Democratic turnout more than Republican turnout on Election Day.
Politically, one of the most effective tools for mobilizing voters is to emphasize lost rights and resources.
This was the case after last June’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which eliminated the right to abortion and in the 2022 midterm elections mobilized millions of pro-choice voters. By that logic, the three decisions I mentioned should raise turnout among students, gays and African Americans, all Democratic constituencies.
My Times colleague Jonathan Weisman argued in a July 1 article, “Supreme Court Decisions on Education Could Offer Democrats an Opening,” that the rulings give
In addition, Weisman wrote, “Republicans’ remarkable successes before the new court may have actually deprived them of combative issues to galvanize voters going into 2024.”
The education trends favoring Democrats are reinforced by Americans’ changing religious beliefs.
From 2006 to 2022, the Public Religion Research Institute found, the white evangelical protestant share of the population fell from 23.0 percent to 13.9 percent. Over the same period, the nonreligious share of the population rose from 16.0 to 26.8 percent.
Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University, found that the nonreligious can be broken down into three groups: atheists, who are the most Democratic, voting 85-11 for Biden over Trump; followed by agnostics, 78-18 for Biden; and those Burge calls “nothing in particular,” 63-35 for Biden.
The last of the pro-Democratic developments is an initial advantage in Electoral College votes, according to an analysis at this early stage in the contest.
Kyle D. Kondik, managing editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, published “Electoral College Ratings: Expect Another Highly Competitive Election” last week.
“We are starting 260 electoral votes worth of states as at least leaning Democratic,” Kondik writes, “and 235 as at least leaning Republican,” with “just 43 tossup electoral votes at the outset.”
In other words, if this prediction holds true until November 2024, the Democratic candidate would need to win 20 more Electoral College votes while the Republican nominee would need to win 35.
The competitive states, Kondik continues, “are Arizona (11 votes), Georgia (16), and Wisconsin (10) — the three closest states in 2020 — along with Nevada (6), which has voted Democratic in each of the last four presidential elections but by closer margins each time.”
In the case of Arizona, Bruce Cain, a political scientist at Stanford, argued in an email that domestic migration from California to Arizona is substantial enough help shift the state from red to purple.
“In some recent work we have done comparing California, Arizona and Texas,” Cain added, “we find that the movement of Californians is greater in absolute numbers to Texas, but proportionately more impactful to Arizona.”
People who move, Cain continued,
How about the other side of the aisle?
Daniel Kreiss, a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of North Carolina, writing by email, cited the Republican advantage gained from diminished content regulation on social media platforms: “This platform rollback stems broadly from Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, which gave other platforms a green light to drop electoral and public health protections.”
The beneficiaries of this deregulation, Kreiss continued, are “Trump and Republicans more broadly who use disinformation as a strategic political tool.”
These content regulation policies mark a sharp policy shift on the part of the owners and managers of social media websites, Bridget Barrett, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Media, Communication and Information, and Kreiss write in a June 29 paper “Platforms are Abandoning U.S. Democracy.”
They argue that in the aftermath of the 2020 election
More recently, Barrett and Kreiss note, “social media platforms have walked away from their commitments to protect democracy. So much so that the current state of platform content moderation is more like 2016 than 2020.”
Frances Lee pointed out that Cornel West’s entry into the presidential election as a candidate of the Green Party will siphon some liberal voters away from Biden: “West has announced a presidential bid and has now moved from the People’s Party to the Green Party, which will have ballot access in most states,” she wrote.
Insofar as West gains support, it will in all likelihood be at Democrats’ expense. West is a prominent figure in progressive circles and his agenda is explicitly an appeal to the left.
In a June 28 appearance on C-SPAN, West declared,
While West will draw support from very liberal Democrats,there is another factor that may well weaken Democratic support among some moderate voters: the seeming insolubility of homeless encampments, shop-lifting, carjacking and crime generally in major cities. This has the potential to tilt the playing field in favor of Republican law-and-order candidates, as it did in the 2023 Wisconsin Senate race and in suburban New York House contests.
In 2022, crime ranked high among voter concerns, but Republicans who campaigned on themes attacking Democrats as weak on crime met with mixed results.
A recent trend raising Republican prospects is the Gallup Poll finding that the percentage of people “who say gay or lesbian relations are morally acceptable” fell by 7 percentage points, from a record high of 71 percent in 2022 to 64 percent this year.
There was a six-point drop among Democrats on this question, from 85 to 79 percent approval, and a precipitous 15-point falloff among Republicans, 56 to 41 percent. Independents, in contrast, went from 71 percent approval to 72 percent. The overall decline reversed 20 years of steadily rising approval, which has grown from 39 percent in 2002 to 71 percent in 2022. Gallup also found that the public is holding increasingly conservative views on key issues related to gender transition.
Asked “Do you think transgender athletes should be able to play on sports teams that match their current gender identity or should only be allowed to play on sports teams that match their birth gender?” the public favored birth gender by 28 points, 62-34, in May 2021. In May 2023, the margin grew to 41 points, 69-28.
Similarly, Gallup asked “Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legal, please tell me whether you personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong to change one’s gender.” In May 2021, 51 percent said morally wrong, 46 percent said acceptable. In May 2023, 55 percent said morally wrong, 43 percent said acceptable.
President Biden is a strong supporter of transgender rights. On March 31, the White House released “Statement from President Joe Biden on Transgender Day of Visibility” in which Biden vowed:
Republican candidates are moving in the opposite direction. At the Faith and Freedom conference last month in Washington, Mike Pence promised to “end the gender ideology that is running rampant in our schools, and we will ban chemical and surgical gender transition treatment for kids under the age of 18.”
Ron DeSantis told the gathering that
The 2020 election raised a new concern for Democrats: Trump’s success in increasing his support from 2016 among Latino voters.
Kyle Kondik’s analysis shows that Nevada (17 percent of the vote was Hispanic in 2020) and Arizona (19 percent was Hispanic) are two of the four tossup states in 2024. This suggests that the Latino vote will be crucial.
While acknowledging the gains Trump and fellow Republicans have made among Latino voters, a June 2023 analysis of the 2022 election, “Latino Voters & The Case of the Missing Red Wave,” by Equis, a network of three allied, nonpartisan research groups, found that with the exception of Florida,
“At the end of the day, there turned out to be basic stability in support levels among Latinos in highly-contested races.” In short, the report’s authors continued, “the G.O.P. held gains they had made since 2016/2018 but weren’t able to build on them.”
In Florida, the report documented a six-year collapse in Democratic voting among Hispanics: in 2016, Hillary Clinton won 66 percent of the Latino vote; in 2020, Biden won 51 percent and in 2022 Democratic Congressional candidates won 44 percent.
The Equis study also pointed to some significant Democratic liabilities among Latino voters: substantial percentages of a key bloc of pro-Democratic Hispanics — those who say they believe Democrats “are better for Hispanics” — harbor significant doubts about the party. For example, 44 percent agreed that “Democrats don’t keep their promises” and 44 percent agreed that “Democrats take Latinos for granted.”
In addition, the percentage of Latino voters describing immigration as the top issue — a stance favoring Democrats — has nose-dived, according to the Equis analysis, from 39 percent in 2016 to 16 percent in 2020 and 12 percent in 2022.
Where, then, does all this contradictory information leave us as to the probable outcome of the 2024 election? The reasonable answer is: in the dark.
The RealClearPolitics average of the eight most recent Trump vs. Biden polls has Trump up by a statistically insignificant 0.6 percent. From August 2021 to the present, RealClear has tracked a total of 101 polls pitting these two against each other. Trump led in 56, Biden 38, and the remainder were ties.
While this polling suggests Trump has an even chance, surveys do not fully capture the weight of Trump’s indictments and falsehoods on his own candidacy, and, as evidenced in competitive races in 2022, on Republicans who are closely tied to the former president.
Among the key voters who, in all likelihood, will pick the next president — relatively well-educated suburbanites — Trump has become toxic. He is, at least in that sense, Biden’s best hope for winning a second term.
Even before the votes are counted on Nov. 5, 2024, the most important question may well turn out to be: If Trump is the Republican candidate for a third straight time and loses the election for a second, will he once again attempt to claim victory was stolen from him? And if he does, what will his followers — and for that matter everyone else — do?
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