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Even Before Trump, America’s Political Parties Were Changing

Just below the surface of a deafening 24-hour political news cycle spurred by early morning tweets and evening scoops, a quieter but potentially much bigger story is working its way through American politics. The two parties are changing, and President Donald Trump’s election may be as much a result of larger shifts between Republicans and Democrats as it is a cause of them.

An analysis of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll since 2010 shows changes in who is calling themselves a Democrat (increasingly college-educated and younger voters) and who is calling themselves a Republican (older, working-class white voters).

Taken together, the numbers suggest that the tremors shaking the political scene in the last two years run much deeper than just Trump, and they may be a signal of fundamental changes to the American political landscape that outlast his time in the White House.

Education is one key measure.

In 2010, the year of the first midterm elections for President Barack Obama, registered voters whose highest level of education was a four-year degree were slightly more likely to say they were Republicans (41%) than they were Democrats (39 percent).

But by 2016, the numbers had flipped. Only 38 percent of the voters in that group called themselves Republicans, a three-point drop, while 45 percent of them said they were Democrats, a six-point increase.

The reverse is true on the other end of the education spectrum: Those without a high school education or less are increasingly leaning toward the GOP by an increase of 5 points since 2010. Democrats still hold the edge with this group of voters, but by only the narrowest of margins (40 percent Democrat to 39 percent Republican).

The changes within the parties extend beyond education levels.

Between 2010 and 2016, Republicans saw a 4-point increase in the number of 50- to 64-year-old voters who identify themselves as members of the GOP and a 6-point increase the number of men over the age of 50 who call themselves Republicans.

Image: Voters In Montana Head To The Polls In Special Congressional Election

Montanans went to the polls to vote in a special election to fill the state’s sole U.S. Congressional seat that was vacated by fomer U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT). (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)