In fact, Trump’s impact on voting patterns was not to increase the share of the white vote won by the Republican presidential candidate. Both Trump and Mitt Romney carried whites by the same 20-point margin.
The big shift Trump wrought was to change the type of whites who voted Republican.
From 1948, when American National Election Studies began polling, to 1964, college-educated voters were decisively Republican and those with high school degrees or less were reliably Democratic. In 1960, for example, voters with high school degrees or less voted 54-46 for John F. Kennedy while those with college and postgraduate degrees voted 62-38 for Richard Nixon.
Beginning in 1968, when Southern whites and some working class whites in the North began to abandon the Democratic Party, Republican candidates made major inroads among non-college voters. Nixon won voters with high school degrees with 52 and 67 percent in 1968 and 1972; Ronald Reagan won them with 55 and 58 percent in 1980 and 1984.
As a result, from 1980 to 1992, whites with and without college degrees generally cast similar margins for Republican presidential candidates. The pattern of white college and non-college voting is shown in the accompanying chart, which relies on data from the Pew Research Center.Starting in the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, non-college whites became substantially more Republican in their presidential voting than whites with degrees. By 2012, Mitt Romney won whites with degrees by 14 points and those without degrees by 25 points.
In 2016, however, Trump won college-educated whites by four points and non-college whites by a record-setting 39 points, a larger margin than Ronald Reagan, the previous record-holder at 29 points.
Put another way, insofar as Trump voters define the contemporary Republican electorate, non-college whites are the majority, 55.1 percent, with college -educated whites becoming the minority at 44.9 percent.
The Republican Party, then, has moved closer toward the goal Kevin Phillips outlined 47 years ago:I wish we could drop into the Potomac all those obsolescent conservatives who are still preoccupied with Alger Hiss and General MacArthur, and who keep trotting out laissez faire economics and other dead horses. They make the Republican party look musty to millions of ignored working‐class people who are looking for a party that relates to their needs.Trump has oriented the party toward heightened anger, intensified racial resentment, animosity to immigrants and opposition to trade.
This is an exceptionally volatile mix. Trump is fanning rather than quelling the flames — everything he has done so far has been to raise, not lower, the heat. The next question is whether the Republican Party will be able to continue to exploit this mix or whether it will boil over in ways that cannot be predicted.