WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference to discuss a revised U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada in the Rose Garden of the White House on October 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. U.S. and Canadian officials announced late Sunday night that a new deal, named the 'U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,' or USMCA, had been reached to replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference to discuss a revised U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada in the Rose Garden of the White House on October 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. U.S. and Canadian officials announced late Sunday night that a new deal, named the 'U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,' or USMCA, had been reached to replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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(CNN) —  

Even before Christine Blasey Ford delivered her controlled but explosive testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, college-educated white women like her represented a rising threat to Republican prospects in the November election.

But Ford’s detailed allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh could allow Democrats to solidify an unprecedented advantage among those women, who represent one of the few steadily growing components of the white electorate.

Coming even as many professional white women are already recoiling from President Donald Trump’s definition of the Republican Party, and Democrats have nominated an unprecedented number of professional women for Congress, the collision between Kavanaugh and Ford – a professional herself – has the potential to reinforce a lasting shift in loyalties that could tip the partisan balance in white-collar suburbs around America.

“College-educated white women have identified very strongly with Dr. Ford and relate to her as a person, and will be turned off by the angry diatribes of Brett Kavanaugh,” says Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin. “This dynamic will likely further boost college-educated women’s engagement in this election.”

A class gap on Kavanaugh

New polling released Monday showed how the confrontation over Ford’s allegations could reinforce these dynamics. A national Quinnipiac University survey found that 61% of college-educated white women said they believed Ford over Kavanaugh; 58% of such well-educated women said the Senate should reject his nomination, according to detailed results provided by Quinnipiac.

By contrast, just over half of white women without degrees said they believed Kavanaugh and the Senate should confirm him.

That divergence is a reminder that for all the talk about an undifferentiated gender gap, a key political dynamic of the Trump era has been a widening “class gap” between white women with and without college degrees. In 2016, exit polls found that Hillary Clinton carried 51% of white women with at least four-year college degrees, compared with 44% for Trump.

But Trump carried a commanding 61% among white women without college degrees, and widespread support among those women was key to his victories in the Rust Belt states that decided the election. The 17-percentage-point gap between Trump’s support among blue- and white-collar white women in the exit poll was by far the widest divergence for any candidate since 1980.

In a recent paper, political scientists Erin Cassese of the University of Delaware and Tiffany Barnes of the University of Kentucky found that attitudes among white women about the prevalence of sexual discrimination predicted support in the 2016 election far more than in the past. Barnes and Cassese, using data from the University of Michigan’s American National Election Studies poll, found that white women with college degrees were much more likely than white women without degrees to say that females faced discrimination in society. What’s more, they found those attitudes more strongly correlated with support in the 2016 presidential race than in 2012, with female voters who believed that women faced discrimination tilting toward Clinton and those who did not leaning toward Trump.

What explains the class gap?

In an interview on Monday, Barnes said that one reason college-educated white women are more likely to perceive discrimination is because they are more exposed than blue-collar women to occupations and workplaces where they are competing with men. Women without college degrees, she notes, often “tend to get tracked into gender-segregated labor markets” such as home health care, where they are performing jobs held primarily by women and thus competing mostly against other women for advancement. By contrast, she says, college-educated women are often competing directly against men.

“When women and men are tracked into similar careers … that’s when it becomes a little more evident the role that discrimination plays in the economy and in people’s career opportunities,” she says.

Trump himself raised the salience of those views, Barnes believes, because he faced such widespread allegations of sexual harassment and misbehavior, including from his own words in the “Access Hollywood” tape. Just as Trump’s open appeals to white racial anxieties raised the importance of racial attitudes in predicting support in the election, so too did the controversies surrounding his behavior toward women increase the electoral relevance of views about women’s place in society and traditional gender roles.

“Voters were never asked to weigh in on these issues before,” said Barnes.

The collision between Ford and Kavanaugh could not be more perfectly designed to rekindle all these controversies. Ford is the embodiment of the professional white woman: She’s a professor with three graduate degrees who slipped easily into scientific jargon to describe the biology of memory functions. In her testimony before the committee, she was calm, even-tempered and at times deferential. Kavanaugh, by contrast, was bristling and belligerent, as were several of the Republican senators on the committee, all of whom are men. In one of the hearing’s iconic moments, Kavanaugh fiercely attacked a female Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who responded not with outrage of her own, but with a calm, if astonished, demeanor.

As many commentators have written, a female witness who displayed the same emotions might have been described as hysterical; Kavanaugh’s supporters defended him as understandably impassioned and indignant. Many professional women may have seen their own workplace experiences reflected not only in the nature of Ford’s allegations but also in the stark contrast between how a man and woman in conflict were expected, or even allowed, to behave.

In the Quinnipiac survey