Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

The lines dividing us, one from the other, have deepened

"We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham warned his fellow Republicans four years ago.

That's probably true. But damned if they aren't going to give it one more good old non-college try in 2016.

In a piece published earlier this week, the Washington Post broke down support for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton by gender, education and race. The results -- based on data from the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll -- offer a stunning depiction of the lines that divide us, and how deep and unbridgeable they have become.

We already know what most of those lines are. Democrats have historically done very well among minority voters, and according to the WaPo polling that continues to be the case. We know that Republicans tend to do better among white voters and among white men in particular, while Democrats do better among women. That too remains the case.

However, the scale of the gender gap has become astonishing this cycle, with education offering a much more dramatic demarcation point than in past elections.

Overall, the ABC/WaPo poll showed a tight race between Clinton and Trump. But among white voters without a college education, Trump enjoys a massive 40-point lead, well beyond the 25-point advantage that Mitt Romney won in exit polling of that demographic four years ago.

Conversely, among white voters with a college degree, Trump's lead is just one point. The 14-point margin that Romney enjoyed among that group four years ago has disappeared. The political gap between college-educated white voters and those without a college diploma is now significant.


As the Post notes, nothing in the polling going back to 1984 shows anything like those margins. And when you throw in gender, the divides grow deeper still.

In exit polling four years ago, Romney enjoyed a large, 27-point margin among white men. Under Trump, the advantage has skyrocketed to 47 percentage points. Among white men without a college degree, Trump leads Clinton by 76 percent to 14 percent, a 62-point margin that pretty much taps out that demographic as a source of growth for Trump.¹ These are the people who want to "make America great again," a phrase that they naturally apply to their own personal situations.

While I can sympathize with the desire, Trump is selling them the same kind of dream that he sold to his Trump University customers. ""You don't sell products, benefits or solutions—you sell feelings," the marketing playbook instructed, and that's what Trump does.

In fact, I look at numbers like these and it really drives home how little any of this has to do with policy or issues or governance. To the degree that any of that matters, it's at the margins. Instead, we're using politics as an imperfect stage on which to fight through far deeper issues that really have little to do with government, such as identity, social standing, isolation and empowerment. It also helps to explain why communication across those chasms has become so painfully difficult. These are existential disputes that can't easily be resolved through compromise.

¹In exit polling four years ago, Romney enjoyed a 14-point lead among white women. Today, Trump's lead within that demographic has fallen to just four points. Among white women with a college education, Clinton now draws 57 percent to Trump's 34 percent, a substantial 23-point margin in her favor.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.