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:

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