My colleague Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, has spent a lot of time thinking about the changing politics of economic class in the U.S. College graduates used to favor Republicans, while blue-collar voters favored Democrats. Increasingly, though, the opposite is true.
The social liberalism of Democrats — on immigration, marijuana, L.G.B.T. rights, affirmative action, abortion and more — has simultaneously attracted progressive college graduates and repelled more culturally conservative working-class voters. If you’re trying to figure out why Latino voters have shifted right in the past few years, even during the Trump presidency, this dynamic offers an explanation.
In this year’s midterm elections, the changing politics of class may get supercharged, Nate notes. Why? Look at the stories in the news. Many working-class voters are frustrated over inflation and other economic disruptions, making them unhappy with the Biden administration and Democrats. Many college graduates are angry about the recent decisions from a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees.
These attitudes are evident in the first New York Times/Siena College poll of the midterm cycle: Among registered voters who never attended college, Republicans lead by almost 20 percentage points. Among college graduates, Democrats lead by almost 30 points. One startling comparison is that Democrats lead by almost as much among white college graduates as among all voters of color.
To give you a clearer sense for what these patterns mean for the likely outcome of the November midterms — and which party will control the House and the Senate for the next two years — I’m turning over the rest of today’s lead item to Nate.
With President Biden’s approval rating sagging into the low 30s and nearly 80 percent of voters saying the country is headed in the wrong direction, the ingredients would seem to be in place for a Republican landslide in this year’s midterm elections.
But the first Times/Siena survey of the cycle shows something else: a close, competitive race for Congress.
Overall, voters prefer Democrats to control Congress over Republicans by one point among registered voters, 41 to 40 percent. Once we exclude those people who are unlikely to vote, Republicans lead by one point, 44 to 43 percent.
It’s a pretty surprising result, given the circumstances. Analysts have all but written off the Democrats in the race for House control, not only because Biden’s ratings are so poor but also because there’s a long history of the president’s party getting pummeled in midterm elections. These factors help explain why FiveThirtyEight’s statistical forecast gives the Republicans an 88 percent chance of winning House control.
But the Times/Siena poll is not alone in showing a competitive race at this stage. Since the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, most polls have shown a tight race on the so-called “generic ballot,” which asks whether voters would prefer Democrats or Republicans to control Congress. The race has shifted about three points in the Democrats’ direction, compared with surveys by the same pollsters before the court’s ruling.
At least for the moment, conservative policy victories — on abortion, climate policy, religious rights and gun laws — and a spate of mass shootings seem to have insulated Democrats. State polls have also looked good for Democrats. The party has led just about every poll of a hotly contested Senate race over the last few months, including polls of Republican-held states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.
If all this good polling for the Democrats reminds you of a story you’ve heard before, there is a reason. The polls have overestimated Democratic support for much of the last decade, partly because polls have a harder time reaching working-class voters, who have been trending Republican. It’s hard not to wonder whether the good news for Democrats might simply be a harbinger of yet another high-profile misfire.
It could also mean that the Democrats are at a high-water mark that will not last. Republicans will try to make the races a referendum on the president, and only 23 percent of undecided voters in the Times/Siena poll approve of Joe Biden’s performance. If inflation remains high this year, as many economists expect, undecided voters might have further reason to break against the Democrats.
The general election campaign might be especially helpful to the Republican Senate candidates coming out of bruising primary elections. It’s understandable why Republican voters who just voted against damaged or flawed candidates — like J.D. Vance in Ohio and Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania — may be reluctant to embrace these candidates immediately. Yet that could change when the race focuses on partisan issues and the stakes of congressional control, reminding these voters why they are Republicans.
For the moment, the Democrats are benefiting from a favorable news environment. The recent Supreme Court rulings, the mass shootings and even the Jan. 6 hearings have focused national attention on a relatively favorable set of issues for Democrats. For them to stay competitive, they might need to keep those issues in the limelight until November.
Other Big Stories
Laughing can be a valuable coping mechanism, even for abortion, Alison Leiby writes.
To navigate growing up poor, Joshua Hunt learned to lie.
One redrawn Texas congressional district shows how partisan gerrymandering drives our politics toward the extremes, Jesse Wegman explains.
The Emmy nominations
“Succession” dominated the Emmy nominations, which were announced yesterday, earning 25. In the best drama category, it will square off against the South Korean thriller “Squid Game,” which secured 14 nominations, the most ever for a foreign-language show. Other highlights:
Repeat nominees: Last year’s best actor and actress in a comedy, Jason Sudeikis (for “Ted Lasso”) and Jean Smart (for “Hacks”), received nominations. Sudeikis will be up against Steve Martin, for his role in “Only Murders in the Building.” The last time Martin won an Emmy was 1969.
Breakout star: Quinta Brunson, from the rookie hit “Abbott Elementary,” got her first nominations.
Hulu: The streaming service could score its biggest Emmys haul with nominations for the limited series “Dopesick,” “The Dropout” and “Pam & Tommy.”
Snubs: Neither Sterling K. Brown nor Mandy Moore were recognized for the final season of “This Is Us.”