Vermont, Massachusetts, and Virginia, which also vote on Super Tuesday, present a stark contrast to the Southern states balloting that day. In each of them, white evangelicals represent only a minority of the vote (42 percent in Virginia, 27 percent in Vermont, and 15 percent in Massachusetts), and college graduates constitute about half of the electorate or more (48 percent in Vermont, 56 percent in Massachusetts, and 58 percent in Virginia.)
Yet the very limited public polling available in Vermont—conducted before Trump’s South Carolina and Nevada victories—placed the New Yorker comfortably ahead there. A Monmouth University poll in Virginia released Thursday showed Trump drawing 41 percent, as much as Rubio (27 percent) and Cruz (14 percent) combined; Kasich lagged badly at just 7 percent. The survey found Trump leading among both evangelicals and non-evangelicals-with an even wider advantage among the former than the latter. Among voters without a college degree, Trump drew a commanding 47 percent; his showing wasn’t as dominant among college-educated voters (37 percent), but even there he comfortably led Rubio (at 27 percent).
Likewise, a poll released Friday morning by WBUR public radio in Boston showed Trump romping in Massachusetts, with 40 percent of the vote, slightly more than Rubio (19 percent) and Kasich (19 percent) combined. In an increasingly familiar pattern, the survey showed Trump attracting 54 percent of voters without a college degree, nearly four times the showing for Rubio, his closest competitor. Trump attracts a much more modest 30 percent among voters with a four-year degree or more but leads with them because Kasich (24 percent) and Rubio (23 percent) splinter the rest.
These states could expose, in particular, the limits confronting Rubio. On Thursday he turned in by far his most spirited debate performance—but so far he has demonstrated an appeal that is broad, but shallow. In particular, these white-collar states underscore Rubio’s inability to truly consolidate the college-educated voters who have long expressed the most skepticism about Trump’s policy agenda and temperament. In many states, both McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012 amassed dominating numbers among college-educated voters who were not evangelicals: Romney, for instance, carried over half of those voters in Michigan, Illinois, and Florida, and between 42 and 48 percent in New Hampshire, Georgia, and Ohio.
But with a much harder-edged ideological message than either man, Rubio hasn’t yet approached those numbers: He won 16 percent of college-educated non-evangelical voters in Iowa, 7 percent in New Hampshire, 27 percent in South Carolina, and 29 percent in Nevada; the Monmouth Poll gave him 31 percent of them in Virginia. With other candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie leaving the race, Rubio is gaining ground with those white-collar voters—but not nearly enough to overcome Trump’s downscale dominance. “Some of those are the Jeb Bush votes, and Chris Christie votes, but they are being very much splintered,” said Brabender. “Trump is getting a few of those votes; they are not all going to Rubio.” Christie’s endorsement of Trump on Friday symbolized that dispersal.