After the election of Donald Trump in 2016, many Democratic voters felt baffled and betrayed. Pollsters and statisticians had predicted a decisive victory for Hillary Clinton, and her campaign had even attempted to elevate Trump because they thought he was the easiest candidate for her to beat. Conveniently, the Russian collusion narrative and allegations of white supremacy allowed the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign, and the media to avoid asking themselves how they had made such an enormous miscalculation.
In reality, their inability to predict or understand Trump’s appeal to voters was symptomatic of a class stratification that had been building for decades. From the 1970s until the 2008 financial crash, only the top 20% of the country saw its real income steadily grow while the real income of the bottom 80% stagnated. This top 20% consisted largely of affluent college-educated professionals who migrated to the Democratic Party, while large segments of the working class left it. In 1960, Democratic President John F. Kennedy lost the votes of white college graduates, but he won the support of white voters without a college degree by a 2-to-1 margin. For Joe Biden, the results were the exact opposite. In 1992, almost 60% of Bill Clinton’s supporters were whites without a degree, but the same was true of only 27% of Biden voters. By 2018 the top 10 wealthiest congressional districts were all held by Democrats.