Instead, college-educated white voters have gravitated toward three lagging candidates. In Iowa, they gave a combined 61 percent of their vote to Buttigieg, Warren, and Klobuchar. In New Hampshire, it was 64 percent. Even in Nevada they provided a 52 percent majority of their vote to the three. That number declined in South Carolina, as those contenders looked less viable over time. But even there they captured one-third of the vote among college-educated white voters.
Looking forward to Super Tuesday, the latest CNN survey shows the trio drawing 43 percent of college-educated white voters in California, which is as much as Sanders, Biden, and Bloomberg combined. NBC/Marist polls released yesterday show Buttigieg, Warren, and Klobuchar at 45 percent among them in Texas (nearly as much as Sanders, Biden, and Bloomberg) and 38 percent in North Carolina (where the other three did combine for a majority). Among white voters without a college degree, Buttigieg, Warren, and Klobuchar took only about one-fifth of the vote in both the Texas and North Carolina polls.
Read: The two things that sank Buttigieg’s candidacy
The trio have faced common problems in the race. All have struggled to establish a beachhead with minority voters. While Buttigieg ran about as well among white voters without a college degree as among those with one, both Klobuchar and Warren have struggled to reach beyond their “wine track” base. While Warren still has a formidable fundraising and organizational base, she hasn’t finished anywhere near first in any of the four contests so far.
The result: A huge bloc of college-educated white voters is now parked with two candidates who just left the race and a third who, at this point, has a vanishingly small chance of actually becoming the nominee.
These voters aren’t guaranteed to become the tipping point in a Sanders-Biden race. They aren’t distributed as evenly across the upcoming states as white voters without a college degree are, so they may not shape the result in as many places. And there’s no assurance that they will coalesce behind one candidate. But there’s no question that there is enough of them to make a difference if they do.
In 2016, white voters with a college degree cast more than one-third of the votes in the Democratic primary, according to a cumulative CNN analysis of all the exit polls conducted that year. It’s highly possible that number will increase this year, as more white-collar white suburbanites, whose recoil from Donald Trump helped Democrats take control of the House in 2018, participate in the nominating process. Compared with the 2016 primaries, the share of the vote cast by college-educated white voters has increased in each of the Democratic contests this year except New Hampshire.
Yet so far, this growing group has drifted away from the chief currents of the competition, settling into the backwaters. Buttigieg’s withdrawal especially may offer these voters their first real chance to steer back into the mainstream of the 2020 race—and more directly influence its outcome.