White and Educated? You're One of the Reasons Politics Are So Polarized

If you're white and have a college education or greater, you're probably (one of) the reasons our politics is so polarized. Using abortion, a polarizing issue if there ever was one, as a proxy, researchers have shown that since 1980, educated whites' stances on abortion have skewed in two very different directions using partisanship as the variable. That is, if you're Republican, you're pro-life; if you're Democrat, you're pro-choice.

In fact, the more money you make the more likely you are to be an ideological outlier on abortion. The same holds true -- and there is likely some overlap here -- in whites who are highly educated and/or "high-information" voters/persons. As a point of comparison, blacks' and Latinos' partisanship has almost no correlation with their attitudes on abortion vis-a-vis 1980.

Ok, so why might this be? That's the interesting question. Well, a bit of history is needed to understand the politics of abortion. Evangelical Christians, who are overwhelmingly white, contrary to popular lore, did not engage the abortion question until the late 1970s when evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell begin to change their tune from one of battling desegregation -- Falwell was preaching against desegregation in the late 1950s and 1960s at his Thomas Road Baptist Church in Virginia -- to seizing on social issues like abortion.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church was always the leader of the pro-life movement dating back to its efforts in the 1960s and post-Roe v. Wade, and mainline Protestants were decidedly ambivalent about the abortion issue. It took a number of developments in the 1970s for evangelicals to get involved more involved in politics: this included fighting the Equal Rights Amendment and protecting Christian schools against the IRS. (However, it is not the case, again, against popular lore, that evangelicals/fundamentalists withdrew entirely from secular society after the Scopes trial over evolution in the 1920s.).

All this is to say is that by 1980 Republicans had begun to take over the abortion issue from the pro-life side while Democrats seized on the pro-choice voters. You might remember on the campaign trail in 1980, when Ronald Reagan told a group of evangelical leaders: "I know you can't endorse me, but I endorse you." At the same time, Democrats began to become the balkanized party of different interests groups, including NOW and NARAL, and nominated the first female vice-presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. The New Deal Coalition of voters had ruptured and Democrats scrambled to pitch a big electoral tent.

So being an evangelical Christian has quite a bit of explanatory purchase in solving this riddle. Moreover, we also know that the more affluent a person is, the more likely they are to be politically engaged. That (i.e, implicit here is that you know being more whites are affluent) explains another piece of the puzzle, along with the fact that politicians pay more attention to affluent voters' policy preferences than those further down the income scale. And it is a true if sad fact of American life that if you are minority, you are less likely to be affluent. Moreover, while blacks are religious, they tend to be socially liberal including on issues like abortion.

To put all this another, facetious way (but with more than a grain of truth), rich whites folks might have too much time on their hands.

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