February 3, 2023 - 7:30am

The increased dominance of college-educated white people in the Democratic Party poses a major threat to party cohesion, a new paper argues. 

Democrats are now more likely to be dominated by college-educated whites, whose progressive political priorities diverge from the more socially conservative non-white wing of the party. Due to their high levels of political participation and wealth, the remaining white Democrats will have an outsize influence on the direction of the party and its agenda.

By prioritising “post-material moral issues” like climate change, January 6th and immigration amnesty, argues researcher Zach Goldberg, Democratic elites risk ignoring “kitchen-table issues” like crime, inflation and gas prices. This creates an “awkward paradox” for the leadership because the Democrats are expected to become a majority-minority Party in the near future. 

Credit: Zach Goldberg

In 2020, for the first time on record, the college-educated white share (27.3%) of Democrats exceeded that of non-college-educated whites (25.2%), but it is the former group that wields the most influence in the Party. One reason Goldberg lists is white Democrats’ higher level of political knowledge and participation than other racial groups, which is illustrated by the table below. Higher levels of political attention give white Democrats a “first-mover advantage” on political issues, which allows them a greater say in shaping public opinion and outcomes:

Credit: Zach Goldberg

In conjunction with this finding, white voters are also more likely to donate to the Party, giving them an ear with Democratic bigwigs. These donors are typically “far more” liberal on social issues like capital gun control and abortion as well as globalism (i.e. immigration and free trade), and this access won’t be disappearing anytime soon: “at existing rates,” Goldberg writes, “it could take hundreds of years before whites no longer constitute the majority of large Democratic donors”.

Over the coming years and decades, these trends are expected to endure, if not intensify. Between 2020-22, the chasm in the Party only widened further, which became evident during the 2022 House midterms when Democrats were asked about their single most important issue. Here white Democrats were around three times as likely (34.6%) as nonwhite Democrats (11.5%) to say abortion or climate change whereas nonwhite Democrats were nearly twice as likely (44.5%) as their white counterparts (25.6%) to select economic issues like inflation or taxes.

Ruy Texeira and John Judis argued 20 years ago that an “emerging Democratic majority” would be able to capitalise on the country’s increasingly diverse population and coalesce around a ‘progressive centrism’ that would challenge GOP demands to privatise social security, ban abortion, and cut back environmental regulations. Yet while the Democrats are becoming more racially diverse, Goldberg’s research shows that the interests of these different racial groups are not being reflected in the Party’s agenda. Indeed, the reverse is happening.

“Certainly, this does not mean that nonwhites are destined to abandon the Democratic Party and vote for Republican candidates en masse anytime soon,” writes Goldberg. “However, the less Democratic Party elites speak to kitchen-table issues, and the more they mimic the language and speak to the policy priorities of college-educated white progressives, the harder it becomes to maintain the traditional “party of the working class” brand”. Eventually, non-white Democrats may feel they have no choice but to jump ship and join the other side.

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.