Democratic Congressmen are three times as likely to have attended an Ivy League college as their Republican counterparts, according to a new tally from the Chronicle of Higher Education—a striking shift from the year 2000, when Ivy Leaguers were equally represented in both caucuses.
This might reflect in part the growing Democratic dominance of congressional delegations from the Northeast, where the Ivy League is located. But it also illustrates, in a striking and original way, a broader trend that was discussed at length in the 2016 election cycle: the transformation of the Democrats into a party of the cosmopolitan establishment and the Republicans to the party of populism and nationalism (in tone if not necessarily in practice).
The Chronicle also finds that while Democrats were once more likely than Republicans to have attended public universities (48 to 41 percent in the Congress before the Gingrich revolution), that is no longer the case—Paul Ryan’s Republicans are eight points more likely than Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats to have earned their degree from a publicly-run institution. Although the Democratic Party has grown more vocal about increasing public funding for state universities, is is increasingly selecting candidates who were educated at private schools.
The time horizon for the shift is also noteworthy. The key inflection point seems to have come around the turn of the century. Throughout George W. Bush’s presidency, the educational pedigree of Democratic representatives grew more elite, while the GOP’s grew more modest. The divergence peaked around the time of the Tea Party wave—since the 113th Congress, the Republican share of private school graduates and Ivy Leaguers has ticked back upward.
Should the Democrats worry about becoming the Party of the Ivy League? Having an elite education doesn’t by itself preclude a candidate from winning the trust of working class voters (just look at Donald Trump, who has announced that he attended “the best school in the world,” or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose name is emblazoned on a suite at a Harvard dormitory). But after the Democrats lost an easily-winnable election in part because of an over-reliance on boutique academic liberalism that did not seem to particularly resonate among non-professionals, the party’s Ivy League shift might be seen as a symptom of a broader problem.