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.
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The most competitive districts are only somewhat better educated and somewhat more suburban than the country as a whole.

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