Tuesday, July 31, 2018

How Much Did Trump Really Change the Electoral Map?

Thinking about 2018 with this question in mind is an interesting exercise. First, consider Nate Cohn's extensive analysis of the House districts in play as we move toward November. That battleground is quite a bit different than earlier conventional wisdom indicated it would be. Cohn:
"[The battleground is] not dominated by well-educated, suburban districts that voted for Hillary Clinton. Instead, the battleground is broad, and it includes a long list of working-class and rural districts that voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016....
The most vulnerable Republican-held districts are only somewhat better educated and somewhat more suburban than the country as a whole. They are broadly representative of non-urban America. They backed Mr. Trump for president. About 31 percent of residents have a college degree, slightly more than the national average (counting all those 18 and over).
The sheer number of competitive districts is important in its own right. On paper it would be enough to make the Democrats fairly clear favorites, if one assumes Democrats would do as well in each category as the party out of power has done in recent wave elections. The Cook Political Report currently rates 60 Republican-held districts as either “lean Republican” or better for Democrats. That’s the sort of number that provides ample opportunities for Democrats to find the 23-seat gain they need."
Huh. Maybe the white working class isn't as hopeless as many on the left seem to believe. And maybe the political geography we witnessed in 2016 is, in turn, not so immutable. Trump's re-making of the electoral map may have less staying power than Democrats fear (and Republicans fervently hope).
If so, why would that be? Political scientist David Hopkins, writing in his blog Honest Graft, has some ideas:
"If 2016 indeed represents the "new normal," than it would make sense for analysts to take a bearish view of Democratic chances in white, small-town congressional districts in the Midwest and elsewhere this year. But if 2016 was something of an aberration, and the Trump-Clinton vote does not fully reflect the relative fundamental strength of the two parties, then the map of electoral battlegrounds opens wider, and the fortunes of congressional Democrats improve accordingly.
Midterm elections are always primarily a referendum on the president, and Trump has dominated the political scene so thoroughly since he took office that this rule of thumb is likely to be especially applicable to 2018. If the remarkable Republican strength in the rural Midwest in 2016 was primarily a reflection of Trump's personal popularity, we might expect it to carry over into 2018 unless a significant share of formerly-enthusiastic Trump supporters had become disillusioned in the interim. But if the abrupt partisan shift between 2012 and 2016 visible in the figure above was largely a reflection of Hillary Clinton's personal unpopularity with rural Midwesterners—as well as a Clinton campaign that eschewed economic issues to an unprecedented degree for a modern Democrat—we shouldn't be surprised by a significant Democratic rebound in the region this November, since Clinton will be neither on the ballot nor in the White House......
Many loyal Democrats will not easily accept the belief that the results in 2016 reflected a widespread popular antipathy to Hillary Clinton. And the surprising nature of Trump's victory has encouraged the view, even among his fiercest critics, that he maintains under-appreciated political strengths. But the more validity to the conclusion that Trump was a weak candidate who won a close and fluky election only because he was facing a seriously flawed opponent, the rosier the outlook becomes for Democrats this November."
Hmm. He could be on to something. Definitely something to keep in mind when the election results come in this November.
About this article
The most competitive districts are only somewhat better educated and somewhat more suburban than the country as a whole.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Can Stacey Abrams Turn Georgia Blue?

There's been quite a few stories about this of late. Today's New York Times has a lengthy piece about the Abrams-Kemp battle and Dan Balz' column in today's Washington Post assessed Abrams' chances against her Republican opponent.
So: could she do it? Sure, it's possible; the state has been trending in a direction favorable to the Democrats and she's a strong candidate in many ways. But we should be clear about just how difficult this is going to be.
To begin with the obvious, high black turnout will be essential to an Abrams victory. She may well get it. But that's highly likely to be enough to defeat Kemp.
There is a very simple reason for this. While the minority vote is large in Georgia, the white vote is much larger. It's unlikely to be under 60 percent of the vote and will probably be a bit higher.
Even in 2012, when Georgia black turnout was actually higher than white turnout (and way higher than white noncollege turnout), whites were still 62 percent of voters and blacks were just 32 percent.
Clinton in 2016, as many recent stories have noted, actually did better than Obama in Georgia, losing the state by just 5 points, compared to Obama's 8 point deficit. This improvement is entirely attributable to Clinton's improved performance among whites, both college and noncollege. Granted, her absolute support levels were still low among these groups, but her relative improvement was enough to make the state significantly closer.
But wasn't black turnout low in 2016 in Georgia? Yes, it did decline and slip below white turnout levels. But here's the thing. If Clinton had replicated Obama's 2012 black turnout levels in Georgia in 2016, she would have improved her margin by 2 points in the state. But, if she had replicated Obama's poorer 2012 white support in 2016, she would have done 6 points worse.
So the behavior of the white vote is key. As one might expect, the white college vote was where Clinton received the biggest boost in 2016 (a 14 point margin shift over Obama in 2012) and it is among this group that Abrams will be hoping to post big gains.
How big? In the Balz article, he quotes Democratic pollster John Anzalone as estimating that, if Abrams could get high black turnout, she could carry the state with only 30 percent of the white vote. That's the good news.
The bad news is that getting to 30 percent of the white vote is likely to be very difficult indeed. In 2016, Clinton got just 24 percent of the white vote. Assuming that Abrams does no better against Kemp among white noncollege voters than Clinton did against Trump, my back-of-the-envelope estimate is that Abrams might have to come close to splitting the white college vote evenly with Kemp (the size of the white college vote in Georgia is about two-thirds the size of the white noncollege vote). For comparison, Clinton got only about 35 percent of the white college vote.
So getting to 30 percent of the white vote ain't going to be that easy. But of course, it's not impossible and let's hope she's able to do it. A blue Georgia would be a beautiful thing.
The David Byler article linked to below provides more data that suggest the height of the hill Abrams will have to climb. Yes, this is an article from the Weekly Standard but Byler (a former associate of Sean Trende at RCP) is a smart, data-driven analyst whose stuff is always worth checking out.
About this article
On Tuesday night, Brian Kemp—the Georgia secretary of state and self-proclaimed “politically incorrect conservative” who owns a truck, talks about standing for the national anthem and happily supports President Trump—beat Lieutenant Gov. Casey Cagle in the state’s gubernatorial runoff, off...

Saturday, July 28, 2018

France, Germany, Italy, the Eurozone and Everything

You can't tell the players without a scorecard and Wolfgang Streeck has you covered. This very detailed article in American Affairs will tell you lots of things you didn't know about what's going on with these players and how their conflicts are likely to get resolved (or not). Streeck's conclusion:
"As the years of Merkel IV pass, “populists” of all kinds, Left and Right, will feel confirmed in their view that the European institutions inherited from the neoliberal 1990s will never be converted into protections against the gales of “globalization”—in fact, that they are so firmly locked into their historical path that they cannot be converted or “reformed” at all. All that those running them, desperately seeking to maintain an appearance of control, can do is hope that somehow things will turn out fine, for unknown and unknowable reasons. Public displays of unshakable optimism, daily protestations of good, “value”-based intentions, and hectic “news”-generating activities will be used to keep alive citizen confidence while waiting for the return of some mysterious self-restoring equilibrium, or alternatively for citizens adjusting to the end of government, national and supranational, and the advent of governance, and indeed global governance. Meanwhile, Germany will even more than in recent years become the target of international resentment, including in France, as Franco-German Kerneuropa (“core Europe”) will remain mostly symbolic and ceremonial. By the end of Merkel IV, we may be looking not just at the impending end of Macron, but at what journalists will call Italexit, with or without Franco-German consent. As a result, the euro—the very cornerstone of German post-2008 prosperity—would change beyond recognition or cease to exist. Unable politically and economically to compensate the losers of the EMU, Germany cannot hope to remain a winner."
Read the whole article and you will be the wiser for it.
Europe, as organized—or disorganized—in the European Union (EU), is a strange political beast. It consists, first, of the domestic politics of its member states that have, over time, become deeply intertwined. Second, member states, which are still sovereign nation-states, pursue nationally defi...

Friday, July 27, 2018

Democratic Wave Watch: Cook Political Report Checks In

David Wasserman of Cook Political Report has released his latest summary of the House situation. I'd trust his view over Cillizza's since Wasserman produces analysis while Cillizza consumes analysis and produces conventional wisdom.
Wasserman says:
"With 102 days to go, Democrats remain substantial favorites for House control. A big reason: Republicans are defending 42 open or vacant seats, a record since at least 1930. The retirements of Speaker Paul Ryan (WI-01), as well as powerful committee chairs like Reps. Ed Royce (CA-39) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) and popular moderates like Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) and Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02), have given Democrats stellar pickup opportunities."
"Substantial favorites"? Has a nice ring to it.
With 102 days to go, Democrats remain substantial favorites for House control. A big reason: Republicans are defending 42 open or vacant seats, a record since at least 1930. The retirements of Speaker Paul Ryan (WI-01), as well as powerful committee chairs like Reps. Ed Royce (CA-39) and Rodney Frel...

Generational Change and Expanding Democracy

I don't often describe articles as "must-reads" but this Adam Bonica article (with great graphics) in the New York Times is a must-read. Bonica's core argument is that generational shifts are way more powerful politically than people think and that the power of theses shifts--already substantial--can be dramatically enhanced by reforms to expand democracy.
Agree on both counts. I've been beating the drum for awhile on the profound significance of ongoing generational shifts (half of eligible voters will be Millennials or Post-Millennials [labelled Gen Z by Bonica] by 2020; two-thirds by 2032!) and hopefully Bonica's article will help swell the chorus and solidify a linkage to democracy reform.
Some key points from Bonica's article:
"While it is tempting to view elections as being decided in the moment, much of the groundwork is set in place decades earlier. Looking at survey data from the 1950s, political scientists observed that voters who came of age during the Great Depression identified as Democrats at much higher rates than prior and subsequent generations. The Great Depression and the remaking of American government during the New Deal left a lasting imprint on a generation of voters. A 2014 study by Andrew Gelman and Yair Ghitza demonstrates that the “political events of a voter’s teenage and early adult years, centered around the age of 18, are enormously important in the formation of these long-term partisan preferences.”
We often underappreciate how generational turnover affects our politics. As a generation of New Deal Democrats grew older (and more likely to vote), they created a generational advantage that helped Democrats maintain majority control of the House of Representatives for nearly four decades. When Republicans finally retook Congress in the 1994 election, it too was a predictable consequence of a changing electorate: The New Deal Democrats had given way to a solidly Republican generation of voters who came of age during the early years of the Cold War. This made the return of Republican majorities during the 1990s or 2000s likely, if not inevitable.
Once again, the nation is on the cusp of a generational revolution. As a group, millennials favor Democrats by nearly a 2 to 1 margin. Millennials are unlikely to trend Republican as they age so long as the current hyper-polarized political environment persists. However, they will become more likely to vote. (A general rule of thumb is that turnout increases by about one percentage point with each year of age.) This makes it possible to in essence fast-forward the electorate to forecast how the generational advantage will change over the next decade.
The Republican Party, after years of ascendancy, is about to fall off an electoral cliff. By 2026, according to an analysis of data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, millennials are expected to account for 19 percent of votes cast, up from 12 percent in 2014, with Democratic-leaning Gen Xers and Gen Zers accounting for an additional 34 percent. As this happens, the Republican-leaning Silent Generation is projected to account for 8 percent of votes cast in 2026, down from 23 percent in 2014.....
Carrying out practical and proven policies to increase voter turnout will swell Democratic majorities, strengthen the party’s mandate to govern and shore up support for progressive policies. Medicare for All would be a much easier sell if 18-year-olds turned out like 80-year-olds.
So would policies intended to combat economic inequality. Among advanced democracies, turnout in national elections is a strong predictor of income inequality. The United States has both the lowest turnout and highest share of income going to the top 1 percent. This is unlikely to be a coincidence. There are good theoretical reasons to believe the two are related....
Fixing our democracy is perhaps our best shot at getting Congress back to work on solving the serious problems facing the nation. Generational change is coming and with it an opportunity to fundamentally transform American government and who it serves, so long as Democrats insist on making voters mirror the population and do everything in their power to make it happen."

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Democratic Wave Watch: The Wave Is Back!

Or at least so says Chris Cillizza, an unfailingly accurate barometer of the political conventional wisdom. i suppose that should make us cautious. But....he does round up a lot of indicators that suggest the climate for the Democrats is settling in to a very good place for the party. These include:
* generic Congressional polls
* polls of swing districts
* House ratings changes
* fundraising reports
* widened playing field
* historical patterns
Those swing districts include our old pal, Conor Lamb:
"Take Pennsylvania's 17th District in the southwestern part of the state where Reps. Conor Lamb (D) and Keith Rothfus (R) are facing off. Even though President Donald Trump narrowly carried the seat in 2016, Lamb leads Rothfus 51% to 39% in a new Monmouth University poll."
Yup, looking good.
About this article
The 2018 election is in 105 days. And the playing field continues to tilt toward Democrats.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sure Democrats Are Ahead Nationally, But How Are Democrats Doing in Competitive House Districts?

A good question; there is a veritable fire hose of national polls that test the generic Congressional ballot (where the Democrats are doing very well). But what about in the competitive districts that really count, where the race to control the House will actually be won or lost? Such polls are harder to find but Latino Decisions has just released a poll of the 61 most competitive House districts as defined by the Cook Political Report, CNN and Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball site. As a bonus they did oversamples of individual minority groups so they could report reliable findings for those groups. The overall +13 in these districts for the Democrats looks excellent, the minority Democratic margins are solid and the anemic +7 for the Republicans among whites (roughly two-thirds of registered voters across these districts) is quite poor by contemporary GOP standards.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Trump Still Unpopular, GOP Still Losing Ground

Does this look to you like a President who's getting more popular? Yes, yes I know, Republican identifiers still support him and it is hard to shake their faith. But it matters a great deal that his overall approval rating continues to be very bad--in fact, historically bad--that independents don't like him and that Democrats absolutely detest him. See Matt Yglesias' recent article in Vox for more detail or my previous post on the issue.
Meanwhile, the stuff that really counts--Democratic prospects in November--continue to improve. The ongoing Trump circus is, to say the least, not helping Republican candidates. Latest relevant data: Saboto's Crystall Ball just moved 17 House races toward the Democrats. Maintain a healthy paranoia but things are actually looking pretty good.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Why You Should Still Care about Swing Voters

A common view these days, particularly on the left, is that swing voters have disappeared. This is comforting for those who see slogans like "Abolish ICE!" as having no real downside, since there are no persuadable swing voters out there to alienate. Just need to get those juices flowing among the Democratic base!
That would make life easier, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, in the real world of politics, this is not remotely true. Matt Yglesias does a good job of demonstrating this in a lengthy article just published on Vox.. Some of his main points:
"Swing voters have gotten rarer over time, but there are definitely swing voters, and their decision to swing one way or the other makes a difference in politics.....The 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study conducted a large sample poll and found that 6.7 million Trump voters said they voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and 2.7 million Clinton voters said they voted for Mitt Romney in 2016. In other words, about 11 percent of Trump voters say they were Obama voters four years earlier and about 4 percent of Clinton voters say they were Romney voters four years earlier....
The switchers are also important because they are not evenly distributed around the country. Obama lost whites with no college degree by a very large margin in 2012, but Clinton did even worse — especially losing the support of the kind of Northern, relatively secular noncollege whites who had not already defected from the GOP. This kind of vote is disproportionately common in the three crucial swing states that delivered Trump his Electoral College victory....
[S]wing voters themselves are very real, concern about alienating them with unpopular positions is valid, and nothing about Trump’s election win should be seen as debunking the basic conventional wisdom about all of this. Even more importantly, there’s relatively little reason to believe that chasing swing voters requires sharp trade-offs with other electoral strategies.
Probably the biggest fallacy in the dialogue about swing voters is the widely stated — but rarely examined — notion that a political party could try to focus on “mobilizing the base” instead of persuading swing voters.
This is, however, both a conceptual and empirical confusion. For starters, the actual base of a political party is almost by definition the people you don’t need to work on mobilizing — the party regulars who are habituated to voting and loyal to the party as an institution. The people you would want to mobilize are people you have reason to believe would vote for you if forced to vote, but who for one reason or other are disinclined to actually show up.....
There’s nothing wrong with taking a stand on something you think is important, even if it’s unpopular — though a wise candidate might prefer to emphasize her popular views and reduce the salience of her less popular ones. But whatever it is that causes people to vote, the important point is that swing voters really do exist. A small but incredibly important group of Americans regularly switch their partisan allegiances, and many people are willing to vote differently down-ballot from how they vote in presidential races.
Appealing to these swing voters isn’t the only way to win elections, but it’s a pretty good strategy, and there’s no reason to believe that using it involves a hard trade-off with trying to mobilize marginal voters or anything else."
Yglesias, as is common, thinks about swing voters in his article as voters who toggled between one party and another. That's fine but let me suggest another way of thinking about it that touches base with the various partisan and demographic characteristics frequently associated with swing voters.
The very term “swing voter” deserves a lot more scrutiny than it generally earns. The term is thrown around carelessly and rarely defined clearly. The general image seems to be that there are two opposing armies, each army 100 percent likely to vote for their party, and then some voters in the middle who are undecided. Maybe that's not the right way to look at it.
Instead, think of it this way. For an individual voter to qualify as a swing voter, the relevant criterion that needs to be fulfilled is simply persuadability. And that’s not a quality that’s exclusive only to those who are completely undecided, or who are only weakly committed to a candidate. Even those who are moderately committed can be persuaded to deepen their commitment. And the deepening of an existing affiliation with a candidate can be just as significant, both statistically and electorally speaking, as attracting mild commitment from someone who had previously been mildly committed to another candidate.
The important factor is not where voters’ inclinations started out, but the fact that their inclinations were changed at all. The act of persuading a swing voter has traditionally been thought of as moving a given voter from more likely to vote against a given candidate to more likely to vote for him—say from 55 percent likely to vote against to 55 percent likely to vote for. But it could also mean moving that voter from somewhat likely to vote for a candidate to very likely to support that candidate (say from 55 percent likelihood to 65 percent)—or, for that matter, from very likely to almost certain (65 percent to 75 percent). All three of these examples are mathematically equivalent—and it makes sense to think of them all as swing voters.
A bit more math may help clarify the point. If there are 100 voters with a probability of just 45 percent of voting for your candidate, then you would expect your candidate to lose by 10 votes, assuming everyone voted (45 for vs. 55 against). If you persuaded these 100 voters to have slightly positive feelings towards your candidate—say, a 55 percent probability of voting for him—than he should receive a net gain of 10 votes (55 for vs. 45 against). Overall, then, as your candidate moves from 45 to 55 percent favorability, his campaign experiences a marginal shift of 20 votes—from losing by 10 votes to winning by 10 votes. Now let’s say your 100 voters start out with a 65 percent likelihood voting for your candidate—that’s a margin of +30 if they all vote (65 for vs. 35 against). If you bump up that probability to 75 percent, you now have a margin of +50 (75 for vs. 25 against). The net gain in margin from shifting probability of support from 65 to 75 percent? Twenty votes, just as in the previous example.
Persuadability, then, is not logically restricted to voters in the center; it can potentially be far more broadly distributed. That is what political scientist William Mayer found in his analysis of swing voters based on National Election Study data. Swing voters are least likely to be found among strong partisans (12 percent of this group); more likely to be found among independent leaners (27 percent) and weak partisans (28 percent); and most likely to be found among pure independents (40 percent). But since pure independents are such a small group, they wind up being just 13 percent of all swing voters, actually less than the number of strong partisans among swingers (18 percent). Another 28 percent of swing voters are independent leaners, and the largest group, 42 percent, are weak partisans. Thus the overwhelming majority (70 percent) of swing voters are weak or independent leaning partisans—the kind of voters whose probability of support for “their” candidate is more usefully thought of as being movable from 70 to 80 percent than from 45 to 55 percent.
If swing voters are not clustered in the center of the political distribution, are they at least clustered in particular demographic groups where campaigns can get at them? Here the research also suggests that the intuitive and popular conception is wrong. According to Mayer and others, demographic differences between swing and nonswing voters are generally modest. The idea that swingers are heavily concentrated in special groups like “soccer moms” or broader ones like the white working class or Hispanics is incorrect. In reality, swing voters are scattered throughout the social structure.
So there you have it. Far from disappearing, swing voters are everywhere! Democrats should keep this in mind as we move toward a very promising November election.
About this article
There aren’t that many of them, but they matter a lot.

The Portuguese Way

I've written about this before but a big front page article in the New York Times business section is a good excuse to right about it again. Portugal, my ancestral homeland, besides begin a great place in general, has taken the lead in showing the left how to properly deal with the European crisis. And the results have been excellent. Here's the story:
"[W]hen Europe’s debt crisis struck, [t]he economy crumbled, wages were cut, and unemployment doubled. The government in Lisbon had to accept a humiliating international bailout.
But as the misery deepened, Portugal took a daring stand: In 2015, it cast aside the harshest austerity measures its European creditors had imposed, igniting a virtuous cycle that put its economy back on a path to growth. The country reversed cuts to wages, pensions and social security, and offered incentives to businesses.
The government’s U-turn, and willingness to spend, had a powerful effect. Creditors railed against the move, but the gloom that had gripped the nation through years of belt-tightening began to lift. Business confidence rebounded. Production and exports began to take off....
At a time of mounting uncertainty in Europe, Portugal has defied critics who have insisted on austerity as the answer to the Continent’s economic and financial crisis. While countries from Greece to Ireland — and for a stretch, Portugal itself — toed the line, Lisbon resisted, helping to stoke a revival that drove economic growth last year to its highest level in a decade.
The renewal is visible just about everywhere. Hotels, restaurants and shops have opened in droves, fueled by a tourism surge that has helped cut unemployment in half. In the Beato district of Lisbon, a mega-campus for start-ups rises from the rubble of a derelict military factory. Bosch, Google and Mercedes-Benz recently opened offices and digital research centers here, collectively employing thousands....
“What happened in Portugal shows that too much austerity deepens a recession, and creates a vicious circle,” Prime Minister António Costa said in an interview. “We devised an alternative to austerity, focusing on higher growth, and more and better jobs.”
Voters ushered Mr. Costa, a center-left leader, into power in late 2015 after he promised to reverse cuts to their income, which the previous government had approved to reduce Portugal’s high deficit under the terms of an international bailout of 78 billion euros, or $90 billion. Mr. Costa formed an unusual alliance with Communist and radical-left parties, which had been shut out of power since the end of Portugal’s dictatorship in 1974. They united with the goal of beating back some of the toughest aspects of austerity, while balancing the books to meet eurozone rules.
The government raised public sector salaries, the minimum wage and pensions and even restored the amount of vacation days to prebailout levels over objections from creditors like Germany and the International Monetary Fund. Incentives to stimulate business included development subsidies, tax credits and funding for small and midsize companies."
Got it? Left unity + anti-austerity + growth = success. Yes, I know things are not perfect there and yes, yes [insert special circumstance that, in your view, would make this approach work in Portugal but nowhere else]. But it is a bit of a mystery why the Portuguese Way hasn't been embraced by more on the European left. I guess they're not tired of losing yet!
Read the whole article. Great pix, especially the first one of Porto--beautiful city!
About this article
At a time of mounting uncertainty in Europe, the country has defied critics who insisted on austerity as the answer to the Continent’s economic and financial crisis.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Two Americas and the 2018 Election

Ron Brownstein has a new in-depth article out on the CNN site, looking at the 2018 election through the lens of two emerging Americas. He focuses particularly on Virginia and the diverging political and economic paths of two Congressional Districts at opposite ends of the state. Brownstein:
"The biggest question for November, of course, is whether Democrats will gain the 24 seats they need to recapture the House majority. But whether or not they do, November could produce a realigning election that remakes the composition of the parties' coalitions in the House. Just as 2010 triggered an extended period of Republican advantage in small-town and rural districts, 2018 could do the same for Democrats in white-collar seats inside the largest metropolitan areas.
The result would be a geographic separation in the House as stark as any in modern times. Democrats seem likely to emerge from this fall's election with a clear upper hand in highly urbanized House seats that are racially and religiously diverse, disproportionately white-collar and secular and connected to the globalized information economy. Republicans, in turn, could remain dominant in districts outside of urban centers that are preponderantly white, heavily blue-collar, more religiously traditional and reliant on manufacturing, agriculture and resource extraction. The ideological, demographic, economic and even physical distance between the coalitions -- the trench separating red and blue America -- could be even greater than it is today.
"You look at the map -- and any (place) that has a disproportionately rural electorate -- and you can count it as Republican in any election, and the opposite is true in those suburban/urban" areas, says Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. "We have had two countries for a while, but it is as if, appropriately enough under Trump, the walls are being raised. They are higher than ever. And I'm afraid that is going to be even more true in 2020 than in 2018."
This accelerating separation leaves both parties in a precarious position. Many Republicans worry that under Trump they are losing support in the places that are adding population and jobs and increasingly relying on the places that are shrinking or stagnating on both fronts.
"As opposed to a wave, this (election) looks like a realignment and that's scarier," says Tom Davis, a former Republican representative from Northern Virginia, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee during his years in the House. "That is a bigger problem for Republicans long term, because we are winning the places that are not the growing tide (in population), they are the shrinking tide, and that's not where you want to be."
Some Democrats, in turn, fear that even greater dominance of the largest metropolitan areas will still leave them operating with too narrow a geographic base of support to consistently control majorities not only in the House, but also in the Senate and the Electoral College. In 2016, after all, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by obliterating Trump in the largest places -- she won 87 of the 100 largest counties by more than 15 million votes combined -- yet Trump carried the Electoral College by routing her outside of the big urban areas in enough of the battleground states, from North Carolina and Florida to Michigan and Wisconsin.
"If you can combine a ... respectable showing in some of these other areas of the country with obviously growing strength in urban and inner suburban areas and white-collar constituencies, then you have a winning formula," says long-term Democratic strategist Ruy Teixeira. "[But] the strength in these (metropolitan) areas can be canceled out by the structural problems in these other (small-town) areas."
The divergent dynamics separating suburban and small-town America are neatly encapsulated in Virginia's 9th and 10th congressional districts. Though each is now represented by a Republican, the two places could hardly be more different. Whites represent almost 90% of the population in the 9th District, but only about 61% in the 10th. Immigrants (largely Hispanic and Asian) represent over 20% of the population in the 10th but less than 3% in the 9th. Just over half of the adults in the 10th District hold at least a four-year college degree, compared with only about 1-in-5 in the 9th. The median income in the 10th, at $120,384, is nearly triple its level in the 9th, less than $42,000.
The fact that Democratic prospects are rising in the district that is more affluent, better-educated and more racially diverse and are sagging in the district that is the opposite on each count testifies to the larger shifts that have remade the two parties' electoral coalitions over the past several decades. Particularly since the 1980s, the parties have experienced what I've called a "class inversion," with Republicans growing stronger among the blue-collar whites who anchored the Democratic coalition for decades after World War II and Democrats adding growing competitiveness among white-collar whites (especially women) to their traditional advantages among nonwhite voters."
To get a sense of just how strong this inversion has been, check out this graphic from Bob Davis' and Dante Chinni's article in the Wall Street Journal on the political migration of factory towns: