When Richard M. Nixon ran on the Republican ticket for president in 1960, he was the choice of 61 percent of voters with a college degree, according to Gallup polling. His Democratic opponent, John F. Kennedy, had a narrow edge among voters with only a high-school degree, winning 52 percent of that cohort.
By 2016, those trends had flipped. Hillary Clinton won voters with a college degree by a nine-point margin, while Donald Trump won voters without a degree, 52 percent to 44 percent.
As affluent and highly educated voters compose a growing portion of the Democratic Party, it stands to reason they would also form a larger segment of its congressional delegation, says Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. The scales have tipped the furthest with white voters.
Wealthy white people “are more likely to go to private institutions than less-affluent whites and nonwhites,” says Mr. Skelley.
And that’s what the data show in the House. In the current Congress, 50 percent of Democratic House members hold undergraduate diplomas from private institutions compared with 39 percent of Republicans.
This was not the case 25 years ago in the 103rd Congress. Then, 47 percent of Republican lawmakers had undergraduate degrees from private institutions. Just 44 percent of Democrats did.
What about some of the most elite private institutions, the members of the Ivy League? As of 25 years ago, Republicans and Democrats were nearly dead even in their share of members with Ivy League bachelor’s degrees, at 6.8 and 7.4 percent, respectively. Now, 12.8 percent of Democratic Caucus members hold degrees from Ivy League institutions compared with 4.2 percent of the House GOP.