Democrats appear to be in better shape heading into the election this fall than previously thought. A Wall Street Journal poll released Sept. 1 gave the party a three-point lead on how people intended to vote for Congress; the Republicans were ahead by five points in March. One reason for the change is that black and Hispanic voters “are more strongly in support of the party than they were earlier this year.”
Other recent polls suggest two issues unite Democrats’ sometimes fragile base of white college graduates and nonwhite voters of all levels of education: abortion and student loans. The Republican approach to these issues, which often includes grumpy complaints about how American society has changed since the 1950s, could limit any red tide this year.
On abortion, a June NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that only 33% of white college graduates and 35 of all nonwhite voters supported the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade; in contrast, 50% of white voters without a college degree supported the decision. Recent polls have suggested a recent shift among nonwhite voters toward the pro-choice side: In a Public Religion Research Institute poll also from June, 75 percent of Hispanic Catholics said abortion should be legal in “most or all cases”, down from 51% previously. in a PRRI poll in 2010.
[Related: “Are Latino Catholics really becoming more pro-choice?”]
When it comes to student loans, nonwhite voters appear to be more supportive of the Biden administration’s plan to forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for people earning less than $125,000 a year. In an August YouGov poll, 51% of white voters backed the plan, compared to 73% of black voters and 62% of Hispanics. (The poll did not include data on white Catholics, who have one of the highest college attendance rates of any demographic group.)
Recent polls have suggested a recent shift among nonwhite voters toward the pro-choice side.
Both of these issues are part of a larger problem the Republican Party has with nonwhite voters, despite Donald Trump’s improvement with this group in 2020. Republicans are running on nostalgia, mourning the loss of an America where more conservative gender norms were enforced (“Girls were girls and men were men,” as Archie Bunker used to sing on the sitcom “All in the Family”), and people could make their way to college. For Catholics, it was also an America where white Europeans still dominated the American Church and no one had ever heard of the Second Vatican Council.
Nonwhite voters understandably don’t have much affection for America as it existed before the civil rights movements of the 1960s and before the country became more racially diverse. And that mistrust could spill over into all sorts of political issues.
These include abortion. Polls taken before Roe’s overthrow suggested that Hispanics were less supportive of abortion than the country as a whole, and polls have long shown that black Americans are more religious, so the Republican Party hoped the Roe’s overthrow would help those voters.
But nonwhite Americans are also aware of longstanding racial inequalities in health care and criminal justice. Anti-abortion laws that result in the closure of clinics of all kinds or the restriction of any type of medical procedure may raise fears that already disadvantaged communities will end up with even worse health care. Stories of women being prosecuted on the suspicion that a miscarriage is actually an induced abortion (whether or not they are scare stories from pro-choice groups) can reinforce the belief that women who do not benefit no doubt will be predominantly black or Hispanic. And the idea of preventing women from crossing state lines to get abortions (again, even if it’s an exaggeration on the part of pro-choice groups) has racial overtones in a country where State borders once meant the difference between freedom and slavery.
Republicans are also showing a harsh, old-fashioned reaction to student loan debt forgiveness.
Pro-life Republicans might be able to make inroads with nonwhite voters by talking about a post-Dobbs, rather than pre-Roe, approach to abortion that emphasizes a safety net for pregnant women, and some pro-life candidates seem to be toning down their rhetoric. But fears that the punitive measures will not be applied fairly are not easily erased among black and Hispanic voters, especially when Republican candidates also support a crackdown on “voter fraud” that appears to target nonwhite voters.
Republicans are also showing a harsh, old-fashioned reaction to student loan debt forgiveness. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, tweeted that the Biden plan is a “punch for every hard-working single mother who works double shifts to pay for her own education” (as if any “double-shift” job now pays enough to cover expenses tuition), and Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican from Florida, scoffed at the idea taxpayers helping “to pay a loan to someone who got a doctorate in gender studies” (although business students now outnumber ethnic, cultural or gender studies students by 50%).
The idea that student loan forgiveness primarily helps eligible white students is contradicted by evidence that debt is highest among black college graduates (who owe an average of $52,726, compared to $28,006 for white graduates, according to a 2016 Brookings Institute study), largely. partly because they come from poorer households that can contribute little to school fees.
To nonwhite voters in student loan debt, sarcastic comments about a “lazy barista who wasted seven years in college” — as Mr. Cruz characterized a hypothetical recipient of partial debt forgiveness, putting him in a work that evokes modern big-city multiculturalism – may recall racial stereotypes of laziness, as well as old accusations that affirmative action programs reflect a desire to get “something for nothing”.
As with abortion, Republicans could take more forward-looking approaches, such as offering plans to control the costs of higher education, instead of blaming students for not being able to pay for their education as easily as their parents or their grandparents might have. Trump’s argument that things were so much better 60 or 70 years ago may play well with the most loyal Republican voters, but it could cost the party dearly this fall.
[Read next: “The Biblical case for forgiving student loan debt.”]