Last Tuesday’s special Senate election for John Kerry’s old Senate seat went mostly unnoticed as it was buried by larger political stories during the week. In the end, the Democrat Ed Markey won by a comfortable but unremarkable 10-point margin over Republican Gabriel Gomez 55-45. In a state as blue as Massachusetts, those numbers are hardly anything to crow about. However, upon closer inspection, there is one data point that stands out. In the city of Cambridge, home to both Harvard University and M.I.T, Ed Markey beat Gomez 89-11 percent. That data point stands as a testament to how toxic the Republican Party has become for high information voters.
With their disdain for intellectuals, their flat refusal to acknowledge global warming, their denial of evolution and their inability to comprehend that rape can result in pregnancy, the modern, heavily tea-stained version of the Republican Party is simply unpalatable to the vast majority of scientists, professors and other educated professionals. As GOP candidates continue to pander to aging white religious fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists, they undermine their own hopes for reclaiming the White House in 2016.
While much attention has been paid to the demographic changes that may doom the GOP as the country becomes increasingly non-white, that is only part of the Republican’s electoral problem. The other problem they face is that they have alienated highly educated voters of all races, to the point that their electoral prospects have grown dim even if they do somehow succeed in suppressing a large number of minority voters and even if they do manage to stem the flow of immigration. Tuesday’s results in Cambridge starkly illustrate the continuing erosion of support for the GOP among high information voters.
To be fair, voters in the shadow of Harvard and M.I.T have never been strong supporters of the Republican Party. However, Tuesday’s 89-11 drubbing stands as a tremendous testament to how bad things have become for the Republicans. In 2002, When Mitt Romney ran for Governor, he pulled 22 percent of the vote in Cambridge. While that may seem pretty dismal, it is still double the percentage Gabriel Gomez managed to receive on Tuesday. In the 2010 and 2012 Senate races, Scott Brown only pulled 15 percent of the city’s vote each time, but Gomez’s total plummeted even well below those pathetic numbers.
To understand how spectacular the Republican collapse has been among high information voters, not just in Cambridge, but nationally, a look at exit polls reveals the steady decline of GOP strength among highly educated voters. In 1988, George H.W. Bush trounced Michael Dukakis among voters with a Bachelor’s degree 62-37. He also carried voters with a post-graduate degree 50-48. In 2012, Barack Obama carried college-educated voters, narrowly losing those with only a bachelor’s degree but carrying post-graduate voters by a decisive margin of 55-42.
In the swing states where votes were most crucial, the results were even more lopsided. In New Hampshire Obama carried the post-graduate vote 61-37, In Wisconsin 62-37 and in Colorado 60-38. Obama carried Virginia twice, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the Old Dominion state since 1964. He did so largely on the strength of post-graduate voters in Northern Virginia. In 2012, 24 percent of the voters who turned out in Virginia had post-graduate degrees. They delivered for Obama by a 57-42 margin offsetting his losses among less educated voters.
Democratic fortunes in some swing states have relied heavily on the post-graduate shift away from the GOP. For example, George W. Bush carried Nevada and Florida in both 2000 and 2004, but both states shifted parties and went with Obama in both 2008 and 2012. While immigration and changing demographics are often given as the reason for this transformation, the party switch can just as easily be attributed to the defection of high information voters away from the GOP. Post-graduates gave Bush a 53-45 cushion in Nevada in 2004. By 2012, after being introduced to the GOP’s Sharron Angle, post-graduates had swung 18 points to the left, delivering for Obama 54-44. In Florida, Bush won post-Graduates 53-45 in 2004. In 2012, Florida post-graduates were solidly behind Barack Obama 53-46, a 15 point swing away from the GOP.
The toxicity of the GOP message to educated voters is most evident in races where Republican candidates espouse extremist positions and where they pander to religious fundamentalists, xenophobes, or to anti-intellectualism. Take for example, the case of Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri. In 2006, McCaskill managed a narrow victory over Jim Talent, a mainstream country-club Republican whose politics were very conservative but whose rhetoric was measured and focused on fiscal policy. McCaskill beat Talent among post-graduate voters by a 53-46 margin and Talent beat her by double digits (53-43) among voters with just a Bachelor’s degree. McCaskill eked out a narrow victory by carrying the most and least educated voters in the state, while Talent crushed her among those with middling levels of education.
In 2012, the Republicans nominated a Christian Right extremist named Todd Akin, who will remain forever infamous for his “legitimate rape” comments. Akin actually held his own with less educated voters but he got beat by McCaskill with voters who had a Bachelor’s degree (50-44) and he got clobbered mercilessly (58-36) by voters with post-graduate degrees. From 2006 to 2012, the Republican Party lost 15-16 points among college educated and post-graduate voters in Missouri Senate races, largely due to the Republican Party’s drift to the Evangelical right-wing fringe and its continuing disdain for science.
In 2012, Republicans only managed to win 8 of the 33 contested Senate races. In most of the close races that they lost, post-graduate voters proved to be the decisive factor. In Virginia, Tim Kaine beat George Allen 58-42 among people with a post-graduate degree. In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren hammered Scott Brown 59-41 with post-graduate voters. Joe Donnelly in Indiana owed his victory in large part to his 57-41 margin over Richard Mourdock with post-graduate voters. Mourdock, like Akin, turned off educated voters with his insensitive and seemingly clueless comments about rape. In Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin annihilated Tommy Thompson 62-37 with high information voters and in a losing effort in Arizona, Richard Carmona drubbed Jeff Flake 64-34 with post-graduate voters, a performance that was 22 points better than Jim Pederson’s performance against Jon Kyl with the same demographic, six years earlier.
As the Republican Party continues to dismiss man-made climate change, continues to ignore the biological realities of the female body and continues to appeal to xenophobia and anti-intellectualism, they will continue to dig their political grave. The GOP has become entirely dependent upon the White Evangelical Christian vote for its political survival. In the 2012 election while White Evangelicals gave Romney a whopping 78-21 margin, the rest of the nation collectively chose Barack Obama by a 60-37 landslide. Since White Evangelicals are now just over a quarter of the electorate and shrinking as a percentage each election cycle, the GOP’s pandering to their anti-science, anti-woman agenda will only hasten their demise as a competitive political party. If the party wishes to continue to disregard the theory of evolution, they may do so at their own peril. For if the GOP fails to evolve into a party that high information voters can again support, they will eventually face political extinction. The Republicans may do everything they can to suppress the votes of students, senior citizens, and minority voters with photo ID laws, but if they continue to remain politically toxic to the highly educated, they will continue to lose elections consistently, and no amount of voter suppression will be enough to save them.