Democratic, Republican voter bases are more different than ever, study finds

Democratic, Republican voter bases are more different than ever, study finds, by David Lauter.

Drop into a political gathering almost anywhere in America, and you can usually name the party just by looking: Democrats increasingly reflect the racially mixed demographics of the nation’s cities; Republicans remain overwhelmingly white, older and more rural.

That hasn’t always been true — a generation ago, the voters supporting the two parties were far more alike. …

The Democrats have changed the most, as the mix of voters who support them has grown less white, less religious, more college-educated, younger and more liberal over the past decade, according to the study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Republican voters, by contrast, more closely reflect the demographics of an earlier, mostly white, Christian America. … “Republicans have not changed as the country has changed,” said Carroll Doherty, Pew’s director of political research. …

The changes among Democrats have shifted the party to the left. A decade ago, the largest group of Democrats, 44 percent, described their views as “moderate.” Today, the largest group, 46 percent, identifies as “liberal,” with 37 percent calling themselves moderate and 15 percent conservative.

Republicans have been a mostly conservative party for years and continue to be so, with about two-thirds identifying themselves as conservative, 27 percent moderate and just 4 percent liberal. …

Republicans have gained loyalty among white voters without a college degree. They now hold a bigger advantage among that group — which remains the largest demographic group in the electorate — than at any point in more than two decades. Republicans have also gained in rural areas. …

More than half of women, 56 percent, now side with the Democrats, compared with 37 percent for the Republicans, Pew found. By contrast, the partisan split has not changed much among men: 48 percent identify with the Republican Party or lean Republican, while 44 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic. …

Because minority voters of all educational levels heavily side with the Democrats — nonwhites make up nearly 40 percent of Democratic voters but only 14 percent of Republican voters — the divide by education level is most noticeable among whites.

White college graduates side with the Democrats 53 percent-42 percent. As recently as two years ago, white college graduates were evenly split. …

Almost 6 in 10 millennials side with the Democrats, a figure that rises to an eye-popping 7 in 10 among millennial women. ….

Over the long run, the generational difference could be a big problem for Republicans. For now, however, they benefit from older voters’ tendency to turn out more regularly, especially in nonpresidential elections.

One of the big questions for U.S. politics, said Doherty, “is when this generational tide starts to really impact elections.”