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Polls Show Clinton Has An Edge With White College-Educated Voters


Nearly every political poll these days gives Hillary Clinton the edge with white, college-educated voters. But if she were to win this demographic group, it would be a first for any Democratic presidential candidate in recent history.

My colleague Asma Khalid went to Colorado to understand this shift in voting behavior. She's back in the studio with us. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hey, David. How are you?

GREENE: I'm good. Thank you. So why Colorado to report on this?

KHALID: So I was looking at census data from the last five years to see what state had the largest share of white, college-educated voters. And Colorado is on top. About 43 percent of white folks there have a bachelor's degree or more.

And what's interesting to me is that at the beginning of this election, Colorado was considered a true battleground. And now a lot of analysts are saying that it actually leans Democratic. And that shift in part seems to be tied to the sheer number of highly educated people in the state.

GREENE: And is - they're in large numbers. They're changing. Is this change - mean that you have lifelong Republicans who are now becoming Democrats?

KHALID: Well, not exactly, David. Let me explain. I mean, I went to this annual Lincoln Day dinner in Colorado Springs. And pretty much everyone there was a die-hard Republican.

Just before they settled in to say the Pledge of Allegiance, I met Joy Brown. She's 70 - a retired math teacher. And she told me Trump was not her first choice. But she will be voting for him.

JOY BROWN: Everything negative said about Donald Trump is speculative. Everything said about Hillary Clinton - negative - is fact.

KHALID: And David, I mentioned Joy because look, there are lots of loyal, college-educated Republicans just like her in Colorado. And those people will not waver. But they tend to be older. And Colorado has become this hub for young transplants.

Those white folks are far more likely than a native Coloradan to have a bachelor's degree. I met Amanda Berns and her husband, Branden, late one evening at their house after their three kids had gone to bed.

AMANDA BERNS: We're south of Denver in a suburb called Highlands Ranch.

BRANDEN BERNS: It's kind of a suburban paradise.

A. BERNS: Pretty much.

B. BERNS: Lots of pools, lots of residential houses, lots of kids.

KHALID: The Berns used to live in New York City. They moved here last year. It was closer to family and more affordable. Amanda and Branden are both Mormon and politically conservative.

B. BERNS: I am a registered Republican. I'm very much pro-free trade. You know, I've always leaned more libertarian.

KHALID: But when it comes to this presidential election, Amanda was reluctant to even talk about Trump.

A. BERNS: The things that he says are inexcusable. And they have no place in the public sphere. It hurts my feelings. Like, I don't know how to say it any other way. But it's so - he is so offensive that I would - I could never vote for him - ever.

KHALID: When you hear her husband, Branden, explain the election, you hear a sense of pragmatism.

B. BERNS: I think the downside risk of a Hillary Clinton presidency is low. Whereas there's a complete unknown and volatility with a Trump presidency that I just am not interested in finding out about.

KHALID: So I ask him how he'll vote.

B. BERNS: If I had to decide today, I think I would vote for - this is very difficult to say this. But I think I would vote for Hillary Clinton.

KHALID: But he wants to be clear his vote this November does not mean he's morphing into a Democrat.

B. BERNS: I just want to say that I want Paul Ryan to run in 2020 and that I will go campaign for Paul Ryan.

KHALID: So one-off Clinton Republicans could chip away at Trump's chances. But college-educated GOP defections could go another way. I went to a happy hour for young professionals in Colorado Springs. And there I met Nicola Rathbun.

NICOLA RATHBUN: So normally I identify as a Republican. But I won't be voting for Donald Trump in this election.

KHALID: She's a young mom who used to serve in the Army and now works as a financial adviser.

RATHBUN: During the primaries, I was for Rubio. Once Rubio dropped, I was like, OK. Well, now I'll start listening to Trump. At first, I thought maybe he was just - people were just taking his jokes the wrong way. Bu then he kind of turned me off with the number of times he said things that I felt were just insensitive.

KHALID: But she's also not a Clinton fan.

RATHBUN: Now I'm looking very interested in Gary Johnson.

KHALID: Gary Johnson - that's a name I heard frequently in Colorado. He's the Libertarian presidential candidate. I wanted to get a sense of what this all means from a GOP operative.

So I reached out to Dick Wadhams. He's the former head of the Colorado Republican Party. We met up for lunch at Davie's Chuck Wagon Diner. It's the kind of place that still has one of those old-school jukeboxes.

DICK WADHAMS: You cannot win on just Republican votes alone.

KHALID: Wadhams says the Colorado electorate is about a third Democrat, a third Republican and a third unaffiliated.

WADHAMS: But he's got a dual problem in Colorado right now. He's got a Republican base that he's still trying to tie down. And he's got the all-important unaffiliated voters, the swing voters, especially in the Denver suburbs, who are - I think are dubious of him, virtually because of his temperament and behavior.

KHALID: Wadhams says he will be voting for Trump. But he's not so sure about those unaffiliated people. Many are highly educated, socially liberal voters who are new to the state or, like Bryan McCutcheon, have moved back after living somewhere else.

BRYAN MCCUTCHEON: I would identify as a registered independent. I cast my first vote in a presidential election for George W. Bush.

KHALID: Then in 2008...

MCCUTCHEON: I very reluctantly voted Obama because I got very turned off by Sarah Palin.

KHALID: He tells me voting for Trump is not an option. And for him, there's more to it.

MCCUTCHEON: So I don't think this is all Trump. I think some of this is the direction the Republican Party has gone since I voted for George W. Bush at my first vote.

GREENE: The voice of Bryan McCutcheon there speaking to my colleague Asma Khalid, who's in the studio with me. And Asma, why is he not comfortable in the GOP right now?

KHALID: Bryan told me it's the party's focus on social issues and gun rights. And so he told me he's probably going to vote for Clinton.

GREENE: OK. Big takeaway from your reporting trip to Colorado?

KHALID: David, my takeaway is that you have a lot of young people like Bryan. And so in some ways, the college divide is actually an age divide.

So in other words, the younger you are, the more likely you are to have a college education, the more likely you are to lean left. And ultimately, that as a whole is going to change the way white, college-educated voters as a bloc will vote.

GREENE: OK. Reporting there from NPR political reporter Asma Khalid, who's in the studio with me. Asma, thanks a lot.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.