The Democrats Climb To Take The House Is Still Steep

Talk to a lot of political operatives and election handicappers and a general narrative emerges.  The GOP House majority is in jeopardy.  Ironically, many of these same individuals a mere few months ago were saying the GOP majority was safe due to redistricting and natural voter clustering.

Quite a 180, eh?  It’s hard to blame them.  They are taking their cues from polls like Quinnipiac (released last week) which showed Democrats ahead 54-38 percent on the question of which party voters would like to see control Congress.

Ed Kilgore, a long-time Democratic analysts (notably wrong about both 2014 and 2016, said of the poll, “A new poll shows the kind of numbers that if they become common could definitely portend not just a ‘wave’ but a veritable tsunami. Quinnipiac’s latest national poll mainly drew attention for showing some really terrible assessments of Donald Trump. But its congressional generic ballot was a shocker.  Quinnipiac stated the poll was five points better for Democrats than it was for Republicans at their high-water mark in 2013.

It’s not impossible Democrats can take control of the House.  Writing for the Washington Examiner back in February, Michael Barone stated the 24 seats Democrats need to gain a majority is not an impossible number.  Swings in 2006 and 2010 featured many more seats switching hands.  However, the increased level of partisanship makes these gains harder to achieve.

So, clearly such gains are not impossible to achieve.  Proponents of an emerging wave point to the generic ballot numbers and Trump’s popularity.  On the generic ballot question, Democrats lead by about six points 18 months out.  Republicans had a similar lead in October, 2010.

But, here’s the thing.  The generic ballot question has often overestimated Democratic support.  For example, in 2006, Democrats garnered 52.3 percent of the House vote while Republicans got a meager 44 percent and change.  Yet, the Realclearpolitics average of polls on the eve of the election showed Democrats with an 11.5 percent lead.  Last year, the same bias emerged, though to a much lesser extent.  The final generic ballot had Republicans up by a .1 percent.  They won by about a point.  So, the generic ballot question has tended to overestimate Democrats success than Republicans.

Geography is also an important factor here (as is redistricting).  Republicans won the popular vote by about 6 percent in 2010.  They won 63 new seats.  Along with their gains in the states they set about ensuring they had a durable majority via redistricting.  As a result, Democrats will need a bigger margin than Republicans in 2010 to gain a majority.

This is a factor a lot of analysts missed in 2010.  Republicans, even without redistricting, are better distributed across the country and that means Democrats start at a natural disadvantage.  It is why a Clinton popular vote victory of 2 million votes results in losing a majority of House districts and a 306-232 Electoral College loss.

Put by somebody else, “The way district lines are currently drawn benefits Republicans by distributing GOP voters more efficiently than Democratic voters. So, all else being equal, we would probably expect Republicans to win more seats than Trump’s approval rating alone indicates,” Harrey Enten notes at FiveThirtyEight.com.

Before 2010, all Democrats needed to do was win the popular vote to take the House.  But, after 2010, when Republicans locked in their gains, the party’s efforts became tougher.  Doing some quick math, and building off the Daily Kos’s median seat district average, to win 24 seats Democrats might need as much as a 9 percent victory nationally to marginally take the House.

We can see if this analysis holds water by doing a simple analysis.  In 2006, Democrats won the House vote by 7.9 percent popular vote margin which translated into a 7.2 percent margin in the number of seats won (233-202).  In 2010, when Republicans won by 6.7 percent they held 11 percent more seats than Democrats (keep in mind these elections were fought under old lines.).  But fast forward to 2016 and a Republican win of a single percent led to them winning a whopping 55.4 percent of all seats.

Again, doing some quick math here, that means a GOP win of a single percent last year led to the GOP garnering an 11 percent advantage in the number of seats won.  Democrats would need a minimum of a six point victory nationally (all things being equal) to take the House as a result.

Historically, we have seen quite an influx of wave elections.  Supposedly, enthusiasm in these elections made the difference (or lack thereof).  So Democrats crashing town halls should matter right?  Well, anecdotally, if that were the case, then many party higher-ups would not be worried the party is failing to create a compelling message to draw back working class Millennials and older voters.

There are systemic disadvantages the party is facing.  Even in a wave election, no more than 10 to 15 percent of all House seats are really in play.  Splashing cold water on the idea dozens of seats can be in play even in a bad cycle for the incumbent party are these startling numbers from Ballotpedia.   In 2016, “380 of the 393 House incumbents seeking re-election won, resulting in an incumbency rate of 96.7%. The average margin of victory in U.S. House races was 37.1 percent.”   In 2014, the last midterm election, “[t]he average margin of victory was 35.8 percent in 2014, slightly higher than the average margin in 2012 of 31.8 percent,” Ballotpedia reported.  Further, 2014 saw only 49 out of 435 races were decided by margins of ten percent or less. while a whopping 318 seats were decided by 20 points or more.

Adding to the disadvantage Democrats face is the fact only 35 districts voted for the President of one party and a Congressional member of another.  There are 23 Clinton/GOP districts and 12 Trump/Democratic districts in America.  This means Democrats would need to hold all their Trump seats, flip every Clinton/GOP district and find another true red district to flip.  It is possible this could occur but the odds are against it.

We are long past the period when Democrats could flip dozens of Bush districts like they did in 2006.  Indeed, that year, Democrats won three districts that reelected Bush with over 60 percent of the vote (mostly in the South where Democrats are all but extinct).

Heading into 2006, 18 Republicans occupied seats in districts carried by John Kerry in 2004, and Democrats had to defend 42 of their own seats in districts carried by George W. Bush. Even so, Democrats were able to win back control of the House, making a net gain of 31 seats. In addition to winning 10 of the 18 Republican seats in districts carried by Kerry in 2004, Democrats won 20 Republican seats in districts carried by Bush and won an open seat previously held by then-Representative Bernie Sanders.  They even captured three districts in which Bush won at least 60 percent of the vote.  Of course, one also should not forget flipping seats costs money.

The RNC and NRCC are sitting on piles of dough.  Meanwhile, the DCCC and DNC are shadows of their former selves after relying so heavily on Clinton to fill their coffers.  For example, the RNC raised $9.6 million in April and had $41.4 million on hand while the DNC raised $4.7 million, had $8.8 million in the bank, but spent more than it raised.

All the above said, Trump’s weak approval ratings give Democrats hope.  If he keeps dropping his party may fracture and Democrats might be able to pick up the pieces.  Uh huh, does that not sound at all similar to 2016 when pollsters thought Trump had no shot with over 60 percent of voters disliking the candidate?

Trump’s approval started out at about 44 approving and 44 disapproving.  As of now, he sits around 40 percent for a drop of about four percent.  Even considering those strongly approving have dropped few voters have moved from approving to disapproving.  But consider that Obama, the last President to compare against, started out with 63 percent approval and 20 disapproving.  By the time of the midterms in 2010, he was underwater by four percent meaning his approval dropped by a whopping 25 percent.

The idea Trump is an albatross around Republican Congressional candidates necks has already been tested.  For example, while Democrats argue Kansas was about Trump the GOP candidate embraced Trump when polling showed the race neck and neck.  He won by seven points.  More recently, in Montana, Republican Greg Gianforte embraced Trump at virtually every turn and won by six points (outperforming his internal polling).

Democrats and pundits point to GA-6 as a bellwether for 2018.  But so much money has poured into the race is it really?  Right now, Democrats seem to lack the cash to turn all the suburban, red leaning districts like GA-6, into competitive contests.  Even if Democrats flip the district, the prohibitive cost of doing so would mean they would never be able to do something similar in 23 other districts.

Finally, there is one other factor to be considered.  Democratic weakness with the working class.  It is where the bulk of Trump’s support originated and continues to be found.  This is where the Democrats lack of a message matters.  Endlessly bashing trump while failing to put forth ideas that appeal to voters is not a recipe for a wave.

Democratic weaknesses with this voting group are compounded by the fact they are very efficiently distributed in many swing districts across the country.  As a result, many formerly Democratic districts such as in IA, MN, PA and OH, which could help anchor a Democratic majority, are out of reach for the party meaning they have to stretch their gains to even have a shot at controlling the House.

Therein lies the rub.  Democrats certainly cannot retake the House if they run 35 points behind with this group like they did in 2016.  Indeed, they may not even be able to take the House if they do as well with this group as they did in the wave election of 2006 (losing by 10 points).  Democrats did not even come close to this number in their best election in the last decade (2012).

These are formidable obstacles to overcome even in the best possible cycle for a political party.  If Democrats struggle in 2018, not only will they fail to have leverage in Congress, but in the states Republicans will likely remain strong and draw in another “safe” majority until 2030 (though keep in mind the “safe” GOP majority created by redistricting is now in “trouble”).  If Democrats don’ get the wave they expect in 2018, they could find themselves locked out of power for many years to come.

Moderate Wing of GOP Flexes Clout

Over the past several years the conservative wing of the GOP has flexed its considerable clout.  From Sequestration to the Fiscal Cliff to the Government Shutdown to pushing out Speaker Boehner, conservative members have pushed their party to take a hard right stance on many, many issues.

With control of all levers of government they are not letting up.  The so called Freedom Caucus, a group of about 30 conservative lawmakers, killed the first version of the AHCA when they decided  the bill did not repeal and replace Obamacare.

Depending on how you look at it, the revised AHCA is a victory for the Freedom Caucus and its power.  The only reason the bill came back up was because Paul Ryan and President Trump gave into many of the Caucus’s demands.  Most significantly, the new bill would let states opt out of many of the ACA’s most significant requirements.

But, this caused another headache for leadership and reflected the power of a rising group of Republicans, the Centrist/Moderate wing of the party.  When leadership gave into Freedom Caucus demands they lost a dozen fence sitting moderates.  The bill was unacceptable to members who wanted to protect the least fortunate.

As a result, leadership and conservatives had to huddle with moderates to carve out concessions for a number of them (including $8 billion in new funding to support coverage for people with preexisting conditions).  If the House was just the teaser for moderates power, the Senate is where they will determine the future of the law.

The bill is still more conservative than not.  Medicaid Expansion is repealed in two years (unless states can fund it), mandatory coverage for preexisting conditions is gone and moderates could only get a billion dollar slush fund in concession.  That said, moderates made sure states had to apply for a waiver to opt out of the ACA’s essential coverage requirements and they also were instrumental in passing the law.  Moderate Republicans are not fans of the law, but they made sure their voices were heard in the process.  Ultimately, they might have shaved some of the roughest edges off the law for the Senate.

Moderates did not just show clout on healthcare recently.  On the budget deal, moderates took the lead in negotiations and eliminated poison pills out of the final package.  They sidelined contentious issues like cuts to HUD and building a border wall and instead focused on increased spending for the military and border security.  Quietly, moderate leadership told the White House a lot of what they wanted to do to Sanctuary Cities and Planned Parenthood could be done administratively.

Moderates might have had their biggest success on Trump’s Religious Liberty Executive Order.  The initial draft of the bill would have allowed organizations to “discriminate” (according to some) in hiring and other decisions based on sexual orientation.  The EO released last Thursday simply makes it easier for religious institutions to engage in political activity (hint, they already do).

Already, in the Senate moderates are flexing their power.  As soon as the AHCA passed in the House word spread the Senate would not vote on the House bill.  Instead, a working group which has been in contact with House Leadership is crafting their own plan.  This is not surprising considering statewide races in which Senators run are a different beast than smaller and more homogeneous Congressional districts.

Moderate concerns over the bill in the Senate reflect those of moderates in the House.  Repealing Medicaid Expansion might cut off insurance access to those who are 138 percent or below the poverty line.  That is huge because more than half of the people that did not have coverage before the ACA fell below that income level.  While a majority of those still without insurance today are young and healthy, fully 30 percent have ongoing medical issues.  Repealing Medicaid Expansion would only make it tougher for them to gain access to care, let alone insurance.

The uninsured are largely poor and young.  Gaps in the law and court decisions have removed coverage requirements for millions of individuals.  For example, millions reside in states that have not expanded Medicaid (my home state of Idaho being one).  Additionally, the Supreme Court’s decision in 2012 to let states decide to expand Medicaid left millions in limbo and threw out the stick arm of the law.

This is not even including the millions who remain uninsured even with the ACA.  Of course, the government says a majority can afford coverage (20 percent out of 29 million) but I doubt the government really knows what affordable is to a single guy living on $25K a year in a city.

Considering these factors, it is not surprising to see why moderates in the House and several GOP Senators balk at the House bill.  By cutting back federal involvement in health insurance so sharply millions will likely lose coverage.  It is easy to see why members would be concerned.

There is also the electoral component.  The Daily Kos, the liberal cheer-leading arm, led off with a piece the other day about how so many moderates were endangered voting for the law.  Of the Republicans sitting in Clinton districts, 14 voted yes to 9 who voted no.  In fact, more Republicans sitting in Trump districts (11) voted no than Republicans in Clinton districts.  Considering the impacts of this bill it is little wonder why liberals are cheering.

But, moderates might have/will save the day for their party.  By changing the House bill the Senate might give the GOP a fighting chance to argue the bill does in some form protect the least fortunate.  Additionally, the Senate crafting a different and revised version might be just enough to allow the party to win over more of the public and piece together a conservative/moderate majority in the House/Senate on the piece of legislation.

Time will tell, but right now moderates are increasingly showing their clout on healthcare and other issues.  Who says centrism* is dead?

Note: Centrism today is a lot different from past electoral cycles.

 

 

Why Trump’s Poll Numbers Should Worry The GOP

Last week, Fivethirtyeight partnered with Survey Monkey to look at a very particular group of Trump voters, unenthusiastic Trump voters.  Surveying 7,000 adults who supported Trump, these voters comprised 15 percent of respondents and it is not a stretch to say they helped swing the election his way.

Per the survey, their are significant policy and demographic differences between this group and enthusiastic Trump supporters.  While unenthusiastic Trump supporters were strongly white and middle aged, 37 percent had college degrees compared to 25 percent of enthusiastic Trump backers.

More importantly for the GOP’s political health in the age of Trump, only 75 percent identify as Republican or Republican leaning compared to 91 percent of the other cohort.  The better news for the GOP is despite Trump’s early setbacks 74 percent of the group still approve of Trump.

What should worry Republicans about this group the most though is they have different policy priorities than the President.  It is important to keep in mind that Trump ran the most unorthodox GOP campaign for the Presidency in a generation.  As a result, some of the positions the President took run against traditional conservative views.

This could prove to be a problem going forward with unenthusiastic Trump voters.  For example, unenthusiastic Trump supporters rated healthcare as their highest policy priority while enthusiastic Trump supporters rated it fourth, well behind immigration and terrorism.  Both groups rated the economy as the highest priority by varying margins.

This has already played out in the policy arena.  When Trump and Congressional Republicans were trying to pass the AHCA they found little support among traditional conservative and moderate lawmakers (reflecting their constituencies).  This shows up in the survey among the two groups.  Unenthusiastic Trump supporters only approved of the President’s handling of the issue with 54 percent.  By contrast, 88 percent Trump’s strongest backers approved of his handling of the issue.

Trump might be maintaining the allegiance of his unenthusiastic backers by continuing to spend time focusing on traditional conservative causes like the Supreme Court.  Fully 86 percent of these voters approved of his pick of Neil Gorusch for the High Court.  Ominously for Democrats attempting to scandalize Trump to death, three-fourths of reluctant voters think the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is a distraction.

Again though, Republicans under Trump might struggle to hold these voters loyalties.  On his budget, 80 percent of enthusiastic Trump supporters approve.  But among the unenthusiastic group,  barely half do.  Trump’s budget significantly hikes defense spending and it is possible fiscal conservatives are objecting to this hike.

Combined with differing policy perspectives warning bells should be ringing in Republicans heads.  Trump ran as a law and order candidate promising an unorthodox set of policy positions.  This means some of Trump”s policy priorities (largely based on class and geographic appeal) might fall flat with this crucial group.

It may be starting to show.  The survey found 15 percent of reluctant Trump supporters plan to vote for the Democratic candidate for their district in 2018 though the caveat is a generic candidate can be whatever a voter wants.

Still, this explains why Republicans are so closely watching the results of GA-6.  The district is ripe with the kind of unenthusiastic voters the party needs to hold the district.  Unlike Montana or KS-4, the enthusiastic Trump vote in rural areas does not exist in GA-6.  As Kansas showed, Republicans are falling further in metro areas (see Witchita County returns) making their need to hold unenthusiastic Trump supporters more important than ever.

Now, here comes the caveat to the survey’s findings.  It is one poll and the results in GA-6 showed a majority of voters still backed Republicans.  Approval polls showing Trump in the low 40’s still have him well above water with his own party and Democrats might be overplaying their hand with pure opposition to everything he does.

Still, Trump’s approval ratings are not good to put it mildly.  The most endangered Republicans are the members sitting in districts full of the more educated, affluent Republicans that felt Trump was the less of two evils.  If Trump’s lagging poll numbers and this survey are any indication, Republicans should be pulling out all the stops to protect these members and their majority.

Millennials Aren’t Saving The Democratic Party

Still smarting over a humbling defeat in 2016 and a daunting Congressional map in 2018 the party is looking forward to 2020.  Specifically, because of President Trump’s persistent weakness with Millennials and their potent growth they are poised to offer the party a pathway forward to power.

Writing in the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein lays out the basic Democratic premise.  By 2020, the share of the electorate represented by Millennials is expected to eclipse Boomers.  They continue to oppose Trump at higher rates than other generations of voters and Democrats hope Trump makes the GOP irreversibly racist in their eyes.

But, this analysis (Democrats, not Brownstein’s), is overly simplistic at best and devoid of data at worst. Consider, that in 2000 Bush and Gore split the youth vote.  A mere four years later Kerry won them by nine and Obama carried them by a massive 36 and 30 point margins.  Trump lost Millennials by a small margin than Romney.  Not necessarily an indication of an increasingly liberal bloc.

Of course, not all Millennials are the same.  Trump did not need to do better with all Millennials.  Just certain Millennials.  For comparison, Romney and Obama actually ran close to even among college educated white Millennials.  But among blue-collar Millennials Romney won by 10.  Now flip the script and Hillary ran circles around Trump with white, college educated Millennials.  But Trump won blue-collar Millennials in the right states by massive margins.

Take a look at some of Brownstein’s analysis.  “Exit polls found Trump reduced the GOP deficit among those younger voters compared with Romney in 2012 in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and he actually carried voters under 30 in Iowa. In all of those states except Michigan, Clinton’s vote share among those younger than 30 fell by double digits compared with Obama’s, while Trump improved by 7 to 9 percentage points over Romney. Trump also significantly improved over Romney among young people in New Hampshire and Maine, two mostly white states. Even in the coastal and Sunbelt states where Trump’s vote share among young people was either stagnant or slightly below Romney’s, Clinton’s numbers usually lagged Obama’s, sometimes significantly, as more Millennials drifted away to the third-party options.”

Further complicating Democratic hopes, the share of college educated Millennials in many of the swing states heading into the 2020 election are unlikely to change by a significant percentage.  Sure, Democrats might find somebody better able to appeal to them but odds are good that will turn off their college educated base.  Everything in politics involves a trade-off.

Just look at how the baby boomer vote has shifted over the years.  In 2000, Bush and Gore deadlocked.  But in every election since they have become increasingly Republican.  Unlike Millennials, Boomers also vote far above their actual demographic numbers.  Millennials, not to much.

Democrats would counter Millennials might even turn Georgia or Arizona, perhaps Texas, in four years.  But if they could not pull it this year when every dirty secret about Trump was aired, what are the chances it will happen in 2020?  If nothing else, no higher.

In 2016, Clinton put a massive amount of importance on their votes.  She had reason according to the polls.  Again, according to Brownstein, “In one survey for the liberal groups Project New America and NextGen Climate, which looked solely at Millennials across 11 battleground states, three-fourths of them described him as a racist; roughly an equal number said he was biased against women; and almost 70 percent said they would be “ashamed” for the country if he won.” Yet, on Election Day, Clinton only won 55 percent of their votes.

A common theory batted around about this is that these voters were drawn third party candidates because of James Comey.  But the only exit poll to ask third party supporters who they would vote for if it was Trump or Clinton found a massive 55 percent would not even show up.

Further presenting problems for Democrats in the run-up to the midterms is Millennials have horrible turnout in midterms.  In 2010 and 2014 turnout dropped precipitously from the prior Presidential elections.

It is also unclear how late generation Millennials and the up and coming Social Media generation will shape the path of the youth vote.  John Sides notes that generations of voters tend to lean more towards the opposite party than the one of the President they grew up under. Worse, while the youngest voters are the most diverse they also seem to behave the most conservatively on fiscal issues.

Predicting long-term is a horrible business in politics.  But, we do know Millennial turnout is likely to drop next year.  Even if it it increases massively in 2020 the Presidential map will likely be fought on turf more favorable to the GOP than not.  Whether Millennials can, and will, help Democrats beyond that is the question.

My word of advice for the party.  Don’t put all your eggs in that basket.  Just ask how that turned out for Hillary Clinton.

 

 

 

 

Democrats Looking To Take Back House Have a Tough Road To Hoe

Recently the DCCC released its list of targets for 2018 (I have some initial thoughts here).  Some of the targets on the list raised eyebrows such as eight districts that voted for Trump by an eye popping 20 points or more.  But, while the list also featured some perennial targets (VA-10, CO-6, FL-26) it also had some interesting newcomers.

None seem more interesting than TX-32 and TX-7.  Pete Session’s 32nd district in Texas, anchored in the Dallas suburbs, swung 17 percent to Clinton.  But, while this was happening, Pete Sessions won reelection 71 percent to 19 percent (against a 3rd party libertarian candidate).

Meanwhile, the 7th district, based in the Houston exurbs, also swung wildly to Clinton.  Republican John Culberson won reelection but by a mere 13 points (compared to Sessions).  Romney won the district by over 20 points four years earlier.

Democrats have made it a point to build infrastructure and compete in districts they ignored last year.  The party has already hired 20 full-time staffers in GOP districts across the nation including the two districts above.  Democrats even went so far as to hold a training for elected officials on how to talk to rural voters.

But, if one wants to look at how Democrats fared in the past in these districts consider 2014 and 2012 in both districts.  Sessions won reelection in 2012 by 19 percent and in 2014 by 27 percent.  Culberson won in 2012 by 24 percent and in 2014 by 28 percent.

There will probably be a lot of talk in the coming months about upscale GOP districts being on the table due to Trump and moderate, highly educated Republicans abandoning him.  But, remember, the same was said of more moderate, swing districts last year.  In many cases a large majority of these districts stayed Republican.

Democrats in traditionally moderate, highly educated swing districts at least have infrastructure and a plan to compete in these districts.  Many of those districts sit in demographically fast changing places like California, Virginia, Florida and Colorado.

But suburban, Texas seats are another matter.  Seats such as these, and other Southern suburban or rural Republican seats are in places where Democrats have not competed in a decade or more.  The party lacks infrastructure, messaging and even a local on the ground presence.

This leaves Democrats scrambling to try and make these seats competitive.  Yet, in a horrible year for Republicans last November, down-ballot Republicans easily resisted the Trump drag.  Likewise, many conventional Republicans in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina outran Trump.  One could even argue in many strongly Republican seats voters behaved the way they did knowing Trump would still win their state.

Democrats are already trying to steal a suburban, Southern district in Georgia (Tom Price’s soon to be old seat) that swung from a 20 point Romney victory to a one point edge for Trump.  Price still won reelection by over 20 points last fall.

Democrats lack a compelling message and the aforementioned campaign infrastructure.  Suburban Republicans might not like Trump but he is not on the ballot and Democrats making that case will need a lot of help from the Donald himself.  Despite his early blunders, Trump does not seem to be obliging them.

 

 

 

The Consequences Of White Identity Politics

After Nov. 8, Nate Cohn of the New York Times tweeted that for the first time whites formed an identity politick and they represented 40℅ of the electorate.  The result was a damning indictment of democratic policies over the last 8 years.

Of course, not all whites are the same. College educated white women either almost or did back Hillary. College educated white men were far less likely to back trump compared to Romney.  But, among downscale and non college educated whites the story was different.

Obama managed to hold his own with white voters lacking a degree, particularly in the north and Midwest. This preference among no college educated whites separated them from their more conservative southern neighbors.  This splitting of the white vote in 2012 made Romney’s 20 point victory among all whites meaningless.

This go-round, Trump made non college educated whites behave in a way they never had before in national elections. For the first time, this block voted like Hispanics or Asians for a Republican candidate.

This allowed trump to ditch the Romney/McCain coalition of 08 and build a narrower but deeper coalition anchored by non college educated whites.

Why It Mattered

Just as all whites aren’t the same neither are states.  Clinton’s wins in diverse, educated states netted her a popular vote win but little else.  Indeed, Trump ran strongest in the white communities that supported Obama.

Trump, by contrast, in cleaning up so strongly in downscale whites communities overpowered democratic margins in the cities and suburbs in many Obama supporting Midwestern states.

So powerful was Trump’s win among non college educated whites he almost overcame a 40 point deficit with minorities in Nevada and won Florida despite a 500,000 vote hole in Southern Florida.

What This Means Going Forward

The 2018 Senate map is brutal for the party. It will be defending 10 seats in state’s Trump won (many predominately rural and blue-collar). The party has good incumbents in every state but even that may not be enough.

But take West Virginia for example.  Prior to George Bush’s first win in the state in 2000, the state had a Democratic governor, all blue federal delegation and a deep blue legislature. Today, the legislature is deeply red and short of the governor and Joe Manchin the machinery of power is held by Republicans. Oh, and the state voted by 40 percent for Trump.

This shift is not unique to West Virginia alone. From rural Maine to Northern Florida the exodus of non college educated whites to the GOP has grown. Last year, it became a flood.

Beyond the Senate, this has huge ramifications for every other elected office in 2018 and beyond. November showed if it is a battle of attrition between urban, liberal votes and ruby red rural areas their is no guarantee of victory for Democrats.

Indeed, it seemed last year Democrats finally maxed out their vote in urban Philly, Detroit and elsewhere. While they made gains in the suburbs they were either in deeply red states or outvoted by rural areas.  In short, massive Democratic margins in urban cities finally did stopped saving the party.

Where Democrats Went Wrong

Over at RealClearPolitics, chief elections analyst David Byler proposed an interesting hypothetical, would John Edwards coalition have been better than Obama’s?  His point is not to say one is/would be better but underscore the current Democratic coalition requires the party to alienate itself from rural, white voters.  These are not consistently Republican voters (just ask rural voters in Pepin County, Wisconsin) but the voters that have historically split their votes.  Until recently.

Back in 2002, “The Emerging Democratic Majority” was coined by Democratic strategists Ruy Texiera and John Judis.  Judis has backed away from the theory more recently than Texiera due to the identity politics conundrum it has created for the party.  But, the theory argues that Democrats could create a permanent majority if they managed to appeal to white-collar, upscale men and women, held around 70-75 percent of the minority vote and at least received 40 percent of the blue-collar, white vote (the book posited 50 percent).

Obviously Democrats have never paid attention to the chart below showing the GOP margins among the blue-collar white vote (borrowed from Byler) increasing since 1998.  If they had the party might have done more to re-calibrate after 2004 or, more recently, 2010 and 2014.  Because, Democrats have come nowhere close to hitting Judis and Texiera’s blue-collar support benchmark since the theory was penned.

Instead, what Democrats have done is create a coalition heavily dependent on college educated women, minorities and affluent, coastal elites.  Byler posits the EDM theory would have looked like a cleaned up John Edward’s, explains why and then points out he is not sure this would have won Democrats the election last year but helped them come close.  I argue it would (but that is an article for another day).

Edward’s was a candidate who could appeal to almost anybody.  He was an economic progressive in the mold of older, Southern Democratic populists and focused on economic inequality.  He was pro-LBGT rights and abortion but he also was an adamant supporter of the death penalty and supportive of gun rights.  In his bid in 1998, Edward’s ran much better than any statewide, federal Democratic candidate since.  Whereas Clinton relied on urban cores and a few college counties in the state, Edward’s won by winning a fairly diverse set of voters.

A fairly large number of Democrats in 2006 and 2008 won election by running Edward’s like campaigns that managed to coalesce a diverse socially liberal, fiscally centrist, urban and rural coalition.  But, with the nomination of Obama in 2008 (as opposed to Clinton or Edwards) the party decided to take a different course.

Democrats went all in on winning the minority and urban vote.  They embraced cosmopolitanism and its values including shoving gay marriage, abortion, and LBGT rights down Middle America’s throats.  Even after 2010, no effort was made to move to the middle on rural/urban issues or even social issues.  Democrats managed to maintain their urban coalition at the increasing cost of their rural support.  If not for Obama’s populist appeal in 2012 he might well have lost to Romney.

The 2016 election was the fulfillment of the choice Democrats made to craft a supposedly unassailable coalition of minorities, urban and college educated voters.   But, the consequences of that decision are now blindly obvious.  Democrats have a massive number of safe Congressional seats due to geographical variables and self-sorting.  The party is ensured of winning at least 15 states in the Electoral College (and about 200 votes) and is getting increasingly strong in Sunbelt, red states.  But, in the meantime, their hold on increasingly rural and red Midwestern states has finally slipped.

The Result Is Trump and His Blue-Collar Coalition

Alienated from the Democratic Party, the ultimate irony of 2016 is that blue-collar, white voters backed a rich, white guy who bragged of having gold plated toilet seats in his New York Penthouse.  In Trump, these alienated voters saw a champion.

In massive numbers in dozens of counties across the Midwest, Pennsylvania and rural Maine, Trump dominated by unheard of margins.  Exit polls show he won blue-collar whites by 40 points nationally.  Critically, in blue-wall states, Trump was the first Republican to see support in rural areas and the suburbs finally outweigh Democratic support in urban cores.

Due to the coalition Democrats have assembled they now face an existential crisis.  Do they oppose Trump, these blue-collar voters champions, in an effort to win over some of these critical voters or do they en-masse oppose The Donald to keep their progressive and minority base?  As I recently pointed out, there are many different opinions in the party on this front.

As more data comes out from the election we should know more about how blue-collar voters behaved in critical counties and states.  But, if exit polls are to be believed, as well as county and precinct level results, Trump built a coalition based on Democratic alienation decades in the making.

As for Judis and Texiera, their theory of the EDM has fallen flat.  Judis argues it has turned the Democratic Party into a minority based, identity politics party and Texiera has said little about it since 2003.  The white voters the theory relied on to stay in the Democratic camp have only been with the party in a few elections (2006, 2008 and 2012) since the new millennium.

Republicans have their issues but Democratic problems run much, much deeper.  They encompass virtually every aspect of American politics and thus cannot be solved overnight.  If nothing else, maybe this will make Democrats re-calibrate.

Do Democrats Have a Redistricting Plan?

gettyimages-464686108-640x480At long last, Democrats have a national redistricting strategy.  Or so they claim.  On Friday, former Attorney General Eric Holder announced the formation of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) which aims to combat GOP legislative majorities by waging court challenges and utilizing ballot initiatives to create nonpartisan commissions to draw legislative and Congressional lines. Democrats have long blamed gerrymandering for the GOP takeover of 2010 but are loathe to acknowledge the GOP won 66 seats in 2010 under old lines that FAVORED Democrats.

The NDRC is Democrats answer to the GOP’s Republican State Legislative Committee’s REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project).  Launched in 2009, REDMAP was a well funded joint project between the party and third party groups that spent millions on data infrastructure and the 2010 election results.  Since that time, the GOP has locked in its majorities in many states (though some gerrymanders have been undone by the courts and citizen initiatives).

According to the NDRC’s website “Republican gerrymandered districts after the 2010 Census have put Democrats at a massive structural disadvantage. That’s why the most important turning point for the future of the Democratic Party will take place in 2021: when states redraw their Congressional and state legislative lines.”  Additionally, “The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) is an organization of Democratic leaders enacting a comprehensive, multi-cycle Democratic Party redistricting strategy over the next 5 years and beyond.”  Beyond ballot initiatives and court challenges the NDRC will also focus on winning legislative contests in the years ahead.

Missing from the NDRC is any answer for how they will confront the non-gerrymandering aspects of their coalition. Democrats are good at arguing at how Republicans disenfranchise urban and minority voters but they refuse to admit these voters tend to do it to themselves.  By this I mean the majority of the Democratic votes in many states is locked into urban and dense suburban areas and is hard to find anywhere else.  While this makes gerrymandering for the GOP easier it also makes gerrymandering harder for Democrats to accomplish even if they are in control.

Take for example the state of Minnesota. After the 2016 elections the GOP controlled both chambers of the state legislature under a court drawn map favorable to Democrats.  The GOP lost their initial majority in the state legislature in 2012, regained the house in 14 and retook the state senate last year.  The GOP did not really have to do anything to facilitate this advantage.  Democratic policies like MCare (the state exchange) and the party becoming more cosmopolitan has cost the party seats just about everywhere else. Currently, Democrats do not control a single state senate district Romney won while the GOP does not control a single, urban Minneapolis seat.  The GOP gets the better end of the deal.

The Democratic argument that gerrymandering and voting laws are the reasons why the GOP has such a strong advantage in the states is partly true.  But, it is only partly true.  The polarization, both racial and geographical, in our politics means that Democratic voters pack themselves into areas where millions of votes are wasted (see an example here).  This means for Democrats to have any hope of establishing a decade long majority in many states they will have to practice their own form of gerrymandering.  And it will likely be far worse than the GOP’s.

To see an example of this dynamic take a look at Illinois legislative districts. Until last year, Democrats had veto proof majorities in the legislature to stop Bruce Rauner.  Democrats built this advantage by creating incredbly ugly House and Senate districts that mixed rural, conservative areas with dense, urban and Democratic suburbs (ironically, no liberal complains about this).  The Congressional Democratic gerrymander has already started to fall apart because the party could not fit down-state, rural areas into urban districts.  Democrats aimed to create a 13-5 majority in the Congressional delegation.  It now stands at 11-7 with a Democratic district being carried by Trump by double-digits.

Of course Democrats are silent on their partisan gerrymanders.  Maybe it is because they fall apart as we have seen in Illinois and in Minnesota.  But, even in purple Colorado they have fallen apart as well.  The state has a split legislature (even with term limits).  The current map, drawn by a Democrat appointed district judge, did everything to give Democrats a majority in the state senate.  It created huge GOP vote sinks in rural areas and unified Democratic leaning suburbs.  Urban Denver was kept intact while trending GOP Douglas County districts were merged with liberal Araphoe county precincts.  Yet, despite this, the GOP holds a slim one seat majority in the state senate because of the Democratic insistence on appealing only to cosmopolitan voters.

To be sure, the NDRC is not a policy orientated organization.  It cannot dictate to the party what legislative policies the party should pursue.  But it should recommend to the party a change of course in rhetoric.  Democrats have a systematic weakness in the states because their party appeals only to urban interests and rural and suburban voters have noted.  This helps lock Democratic votes into districts that waste votes while GOP voters are better distributed in suburban/rural areas.  Democrats can draw districts, like in Illinois, that merge urban/rural but they are incredibly ugly, non-compact and not very full-proof.

Until Democrats come up with a way to solve these issues no amount of gerrymandering will be able to help a party beholden to interests out of touch to voters in many states. This partly helps explain why Republicans since 2012 have consistently had about a +4 percent edge in the number of seats they control in the House compared to their popular vote total.  Democrats, even if they got every map they wanted, could never accomplish the same.