The most consequential development in U.S. politics in recent years has been what’s called the “diploma divide.” White Americans without a college degree, who once solidly backed Democrats, now vote overwhelmingly Republican. The Democratic base has shifted from the white working-class to visible minorities and white urban elites with college degrees.
This cultural segregation along political lines means that Democrats and Republicans no longer speak the same language or espouse common values. They are not only uninterested in hearing the other side; they are contemptuous of it.
Democrats blame Republican President Donald Trump for playing to the lowest common denominator, with a crass disdain for the educated classes. But Mr. Trump is merely a political entrepreneur who saw an opening and seized it. The real story is how the Democrats lost white working-class voters by ignoring their gradual alienation from an elite-led society.
Democratic elites took up the cause of every aggrieved minority in the United States and tended to blame the white majority for every form of oppression in U.S. society. White working-class Americans just struggling to pay the bills naturally began to feel victimized themselves. They provided Mr. Trump with a ready-made constituency.
It would be a tragedy if Canadian politics was to go the way of our neighbour to the south. And yet, we may be witnessing the emergence of our very own diploma divide.
University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran set off a Twitter storm this week by calling the Conservatives “the party of the uneducated,” based on Abacus Data poll showing the Tories with a 12-percentage point lead over the Liberals among Canadians with a high-school education or less. This, in Prof. Attaran’s view, is why “Conservative governments offer numbskull policy, like Buck-a-Beer,” one of Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford’s signature initiatives, which may or may not be as dumb as it sounds.
In subsequent Twitter exchanges with his critics, Prof. Attaran insisted there was nothing contemptuous about his original tweet and that he was merely pointing out an objective fact. “Many Conservatives are viciously angry with me for showing polling data. But they can’t or won’t disprove the data showing that the least educated vote Conservative. Why?”
Still, you only have to look up the word “numbskull” in the dictionary to understand that Prof. Attaran did not mean his remarks to be taken as a compliment. They were a clear dig at the supposedly less-enlightened ideas of the Canadian right, which, under its current cohort of leaders, tends to celebrate know-nothingness over investigation and evidence-based policy.
Needless to say, Prof. Attaran’s tweets had the desired effect of provoking outrage and hysteria among some excitable Conservatives. A few of them responded in vulgar terms, which only served to reinforce the depiction of Conservative supporters as inarticulate yahoos.
Liberals, however, need to be careful not to emulate Prof. Attaran’s smugness. After all, the correlation between education and intelligence is less than perfect. And Liberal governments, including the current one in Ottawa, have adopted their share of numbskull policies, too.
With an election looming, Liberals should instead be asking themselves how their party came to lose voters with a high-school education to the Conservatives. In the 2015 election, high-school educated Canadians split their support almost evenly between the two main parties, as EKOS pollster Frank Graves pointed out on Twitter. A May EKOS poll, however, showed the Conservatives with a 2-to-1 lead over the Liberals among this group of voters.
Our once big-tent parties are no more. Most Canadians with a postgraduate degree would no longer dream of voting Conservative; working-class voters with a high-school education have come to see Justin Trudeau’s Liberals as elitist and out of touch with their everyday concerns.
How did that happen?
Maybe it’s because common folks can see through all the virtue-signalling and high-minded tweeting the Liberals engage in. Mr. Trudeau does a very good job of showing he cares for the oppressed in society but seems less preoccupied with the concerns of blue-collar Canadians. This makes him popular among campus elites. But he comes off as a poseur down at the pub.
As the 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton made a fatal campaign mistake by lumping half of Mr. Trump’s supporters into what she called a “basket of deplorables.” She may have been correct in pointing out that her opponent embraced racists and white supremacists. But she was off the mark by suggesting they made up “half” of his supporters. And she alienated the millions of white working-class voters who backed Mr. Trump because he vowed to fight for them and their economic well-being, while Democrats played elitist identity politics.
Prof. Attaran’s tweets suggest the 2019 Canadian election might be a lot like the 2016 U.S. one.