Could an education gap in voters move Kansas to the left?

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

A new ABC/Washington Post poll shows Democrats have an 8 point lead nationwide heading into the midterms with President Trump and health care being priority issues for voters.  

One of the headlines out of this poll is what some call an unprecedented gap in support for parties based on voter education levels and where voters live, which are connected.  This trend could have an impact on Kansas' congressional delegation as well as at the Kansas Statehouse.

"Trump seems to have accelerated trends that were happening anyway," said Dr. Neal Allen, political scientist from Wichita State university.  

Dr. Allen says the divide among voters has been growing for years, but suddenly got a whole lot bigger starting in 2016.

The new ABC poll shows Democrat House candidates have a 16 point advantage with white women with college degrees, 14 points with college educated white men.  Republicans had a 39 point advantage among white men without a college degree, 12 points with non-college educated white women.  

"College educated people tend to congregate in urban areas and suburban areas in Kansas," Dr. Allen said.  

That means the education gap among white voters is also a rural/urban divide.  To some extent this explains why analysts like Dr. Allen expect the Western Kansas Congressional districts, KS01 and KS04, to remain in Republican hands. But they say the Eastern Kansas districts, KS02 and KS03, are likely to flip Democrat.  Although, in the KS02 race between Democrat Paul Davis and Republican Steve Watkins, Dr. Allen says the quality of the candidates is a bigger issue. 

"Well, in the second the Democrats have a really good candidate, the Republicans have a not so good candidate.  So the fact that rural areas are sticking with the President is not probably going to be enough for the Republicans (in that district)," he said. 

As for the Kansas Statehouse, this growing rural/urban divide in political party support could make it difficult for moderate Republicans to win seats in most of the state.  That would affect their ability to keep working with Democrats to control state legislation as they've done for the last couple of years.

Dr. Allen says this education/living pattern split doesn't hold true when talking about minorities or highly religious voters.

"There's less variation among minority voters between the parties," he said, "because they tend to be much more Democratic and among African Americans religiosity tends to push them towards the Democratic party."

He says Catholic Latino voters also tend to vote Democrat, while evangelical Latinos are willing to consider voting Republican.

"Although Latinos in general move very strong against Republicans who take a very strong anti-immigrant stance," he adds.

While white conservatives will continue to dominate Western Kansas politics for some time, cities like Garden City and Dodge City with large Latino populations could begin to change that in the coming years.

"We will have an interesting test of this election where in Garden City the Democrats have a state House candidate that is Latino and (he's) very unlikely to win but if he can get to 35% or  40% it might say something about the future in those areas," Dr. Allen said.

In general in Kansas, Dr. Allen believes religious beliefs are likely to keep the state more Republican even in urban areas.

"There's been a move in urban areas toward the Democrats partly because urban areas tend to be more secular and have less religious people," Dr. Allen said.  "In Wichita, we are different because we have a very large amount of religious people and in particular evangelical Christians and those folks tend to be sticking more with the Republicans."

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