Democrats Special Election Dreaming

Much as Republicans embarrassed Democrats in 2010 by stealing the late “liberal lion” Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, Democrats are hoping for the same magic in likely HHS Secretary and current Congressman Tom Price’s suburban Atlanta based district.

Price is incredibly popular in the district.  He has never won less than 60 percent of the vote in his suburban district.  But, Democrats are hopeful the combination of an open seat and Trump’s weakness in the district (he won 47-46) compared to Romney’s commanding win (60-38) four years ago.

Democrats express optimism with the right candidate they can compete.  The district includes many of the Northern suburbs of Atlanta which includes parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties.  The demographics of the district are not exactly conducive to an upset but the socio-economic variables of the district are.

It is a highly educated district with a median income well above the national average (and Georgia’s).  It’s voters tend to eschew social conservative firebrands and elect more congenial, conservative members.  It elected Newt Gingrich for two decades and current Georgia Senator Johnny Issakson.  Price might be more socially conservative than the prior representation but he is no Ted Cruz.  Democrats note Trump struggled among the educated and hope that tying the GOP nominee to Trump will translate to gaining moderate voters.

Throwing a wrench in Democratic plans is the unique nature of Georgia special elections.  Every candidate, regardless of party, runs on the same ballot in a system known as a “Jungle Primary” and if no candidate gets above 50 percent the top two vote getters advance to the general (again, regardless of party).

Democrats have three candidates running with a clear frontrunner in Jon Ossoff, a filmmaker who has gobbled up some serious cash.  The other two candidates are a former state rep and a current member of the lower chamber.  Neither has serious cash on hand.

On the GOP side a few have declared but the field is largely waiting on former Secretary of State and GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2010 and Senate candidate in 2014 Karen Handel.  If she jumps in due to her name ID and moderate nature she should swallow up the competition.  Democrats might as well kiss any hopes goodbye if she yes to a run.

But, even if Handel does not run, Democrats need to be careful not to split the small liberal vote in the district in such a way none of the three finishes in the top two.  In states with jungle primaries this has happened more times than either party wants to see.

With a Cook PVI of R+12 Democrats would need a significant anti-Trump backlash to form aided by an ineffective GOP Congress.  But, right now, there is little evidence this is happening.  While Trump’s approval ratings may be anemic they are holding strong among conservatives and Republican leaning voters.  The voters Democrats need to win the support of to take the seat.

Democrats really, really, want a symbolic victory and taking a conservative district that once elected Newt Gingrich, current Senator Johnny Issakson and soon to be HHS Secretary would do it.  To bad it is unlikely they will even come close.

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.

Remember the Early Vote Totals

Historically, data on early voting has not been very insightful in predicting final outcomes.  This is why the moniker, “Democrats win the early vote while Republicans win Election Day” is a common and true refrain.  Yet, just as with many other variables in 2016, it was used as a justification to fit a narrative that Donald Trump would lose.

Many smart people have fallen into the early vote trap.  Republicans argued positives in 2012 meant Romney was in a stronger position than state polls showed.  Democrats did the same in 2014.  Trump’s camp and Republicans did not argue the early vote numbers for 2016 but the media made it seem as if the election was all but over because of it (that is until actual returns started coming in).

Not only this, but interpretations of early voting can differ by state.  For example, the Washington Post reported Hispanics early voting totals in Nevada were 99 percent higher than 2012.  Yet, Fox News argued it remained a close race.  In states that do not register voters by partisanship, early voting numbers are a patchwork of guesses at best and usually come down to urban vs. rural and red vs. blue.

This is not to say that early voting totals do not have their uses.  They do.  They can give us indicators of how a party is fairing with its base and the enthusiasm of the party faithful for their nominee.  But it does not provide enough statistical data to call an election before we have it.

Yet, that is exactly what we saw last year.  Initially, early voting numbers cited in Mid October correlated with Trump’s sagging numbers.  But once October passed and November came about with a tightening in the polls, early voting data was used in opposition to the polls.  Indeed, sites such as FiveThirtyEight and Realclearpolitics were hammered for not incorporating early voting data in their tallies.

So what happened?  Well, if you want to take the two highest profile cases of where early voting was off you can look at North Carolina and Florida.  In North Carolina, Clinton won the early vote by 2.5 percent.  The early vote comprised about 47 percent of the electorate.  But, Trump won the election day vote by 16 percent and it was 53 percent of the electorate.  Thus, Trump easily flipped the early vote totals.

What about Florida?  Well, despite Democrats recording record early turnout, Donald Trump won the state.  He lost the early vote by only 1.5 percent (compared to Romney’s 3 percent) and these votes comprised over half of the final tally.  Where about 6.4 million voters voted early an additional 3.5 million opted to wait until election day.  Among these voters, Trump crushed Clinton by double-digits.

In fact, the GOP’s election day surge was nothing new.  In North Carolina, Clinton was running behind Obama’s margins just as in Florida.  There is also evidence the Clinton campaign knew this was an issue and made last-ditch efforts to increase its lead (to no impact).  Predictably, few networks noted this trend and simply focused on the top-line numbers (forgetting the mantra above).

It should be stated early voting is still fairly knew.  Not every state has it and access varies.  New laws and regulations can impact turnout in ways we cannot measure.  For example, despite GOP voter ID laws that Democrats decry minority turnout increased in North Carolina and Florida (especially Georgia).

Additionally, early voting numbers are generally reported at once from different states and given little context.  For example, early voting numbers in Florida are reported the same way as numbers from Mississippi, despite the fact one state requires registration by party and the other does not.  This lack of context makes the numbers meaning even fuzzier.

It is also true that the networks tend to focus on one pattern over others.  For example, this cycle, many networks noted the massive surge in Latino turnout in early voting in Florida.  Less noticed was the decrease in turnout in South Florida and, later on in the night, the Midwest.  The Hispanic surge fit with the narrative the media had pushed since the beginning of the campaign about how Trump was damaged with Hispanics over immigration.

It should also be mentioned that early voting is not a good measure to use to question polls.  Many polls account for the early vote and weight accordingly.  Additionally, more and more pollsters are breaking this down in their cross-tabs for public information.

This ultimately brings up concerns over the validity of data.  There was tons of data this cycle open to interpretation.  The problem was the interpretation was one-sided.  Almost every time, polling data was used to argue Clinton was benefiting despite the fact she was lagging behind Obama among key constituencies.  Likewise, few pollsters, nor the media, talked about how beneficial it was for Trump to have such strong support in the Midwest.  Instead, it was stories about Clinton in Arizona or playing in Indiana while Trump made a desperate, last ditch appeal in Minnesota.

In this we can see the warning signs about how data can be misinterpreted.  Polling has issues and the media tends to practice group-think.  We have access to tons of data but not always the tools to make sense of it.  As such, we should be careful what conclusions we draw from data.

 

 

Forget The Rural/Urban Divide: This Election Was Decided In The Suburbs

It is very, very clear the rural/urban divide that is growing in America became a chasm last year.  Just read Politico’s enlightening piece here.  If you can get past the hidden references to “resentment” rural Americans have but that urban dwellers don’t harbor similar feelings it is a great read.

Despite the massive margins Trump racked up in rural areas the real battle was in the suburbs.  It is here where Trump won the election.  Unheralded by many analysts is Trump’s significant five percent margin in the rapidly diversifying and grow meccas of America.  This was a three point improvement on Romney’s two point victory and importantly was based in critical, non-coastal states.

The great demographic misnomer of America is that urban cores and cities are growing. But, census and voter data shows suburbs and exurbs are growing at a much more rapid rate.  Case in point, Trump states enjoyed a net-migration of 1.45 million compared to states Clinton win.  The common belief is that this migration automatically benefits Democrats but she barely improved on Obama’s performance in Georgia, barely nudged him in Arizona and lost Florida and North Carolina.  These states are states Democrats have been certain would flip with a weak Republican nominee at the top of the ticket.  Instead, they stayed Republican.

With rural/urban becoming increasingly polarized and fewer votes to be squeezed out of both locales, the parties will have to duke it out in the suburbs.  Not all suburbs are the same.  California and New York’s suburbs are a deep shade of blue while Wisconsin’s and increasingly Minnesota’s are a deep red.  Since Obama was first elected “suburbs” as they are defined by exit polls have become increasing right leaning.  Obama won them in 2008 only to fall to 48 percent in 2012 and Clinton scored a paltry 45 percent (even John Kerry did better in his losing bid).

Again, not all suburbs are the same.  Clinton squeezed an additional 50,000 votes out of Philly’s Collar Counties, did better in suburban Denver as well as central Florida’s heavily Dominican I-4 Corridor.  However, she unperformed in many, older Rust Belt suburbs such as Erie (NY), Lehigh (PA), Hamilton (OH) and Kenosha (WI).

A majority of suburbs supported Trump in the swing states.  Some suburbs such as Araphoe (Denver) and Loudoun (DC) that did not support Trump still swung for Congressional Republicans.

Among the suburbs that put Trump over the top was suburban Detroit.  These old, sprawling suburbs supported Obama four years earlier but this time only Wayne County (Detroit) and Oakland went to Trump.  The remaining four counties including historic Macomb County went heavily his way.

A similar state, Pennsylvania, followed the same pattern.  Clinton garnered an additional 13,000 votes from Philly and about 50,000 more votes from Philly’s Collar Counties but Trump improved in industrial, suburban areas such as Berks and Lancaster Counties in the Southeast and Butler and Westmoreland, anchored by urban Pittsburgh.  Trump even won historically blue Erie County anchored by suburban NYC by three points.  Obama carried it by 16 points in 2012.

Wisconsin, Iowa’s and Ohio’s suburban counties swung the strongest to Trump.  Trumbull and Lake in Ohio, Kenosha and Racine in Wisconsin and Dubuque in Iowa, all went for Trump by crushing margins.  Clinton had no chance winning even with massive margins in the cities.

This tells us that the political battleground of the future will be the suburbs.  The road to recovery for Democrats, thus, is to improve in the suburbs Trump did well in.  Democrats will have to expand their message beyond a social issues driven, post-national borders ideology and focus on economic issues impacting more down-scale and while locales.

This will be difficult with increased Democratic unity in urban areas.  Indeed, Clinton improved on Obama’s performance in many of the most populous counties in America.  But, racking up such huge margins in the cities is not a consistent, winning strategy and as a result a new course is needed.

By a quirk of geography and environment many urban areas have lost their abilities to swing the Electoral College.  With rural “resentment” growing due to liberal policies calling them everything from racist to fat the suburbs are the only place Democrats really have a chance to grow.  Yet, they have been losing ground there since 2008.

By contrast, the GOP coalition assembled by Donald Trump showed remarkable resiliency compared to urban, dense enclaves.  These places and their electoral power are not going away any time soon.  Consider that areas outside million plus metropolitan areas constituted 100 percent of the vote in Iowa, 61 percent in Michigan, 47 percent in Michigan and 44 percent in Ohio.  Minnesota would have probably flipped if not for 50 percent of its vote coming from the heavily Democratic Twin Cities.

The liberal talking point that Millennials and retirees will flock to urban areas is counteracted by the balance of the evidence.  Indeed, many suburbs have been growing largely at the expense of denser, more urban cores.  Between 2010-2015, suburban counties of major metropolitan areas added 825,000 net domestic migrants, while the urban core counties lost nearly 600,000.  The evidence is mixed on whether these migrants will return the suburbs to a centrist 50/50 state or make them more traditionally conservative.  Atlanta’s, Denver’s and Philly’s experience suggests the former while Ohio and Florida suggest the latter.

The defining split in suburbs may not be geography, but rather density.  Closer suburbs to urban cores are becoming extensions of their big brothers and sisters while further out exurbs are mimicking the voting patterns of their rural neighbors.  You can see this exhibited all across the political landscape where Trump lost dense, inner precincts but recovered by winning smaller but more numerous, exurban areas.

Fortunately for Republicans, exurban areas seem to be growing more than urban suburbs.  To lock in their power Republicans should finally try to appeal to diversifying segments of the suburban electorate via school choice and infrastructure spending.  Democrats need to craft a message that appeals beyond their urban core.  We will see if they will.

 

 

 

 

Why Betsy DeVos Excites Me

As somebody who is married to a teacher, has a registered disability and has a Master’s degree I should be vehemently opposed to a Betsy DeVos nomination. I’m not. Instead I’m excited.

Why? After all, detractors point to her lack of experience on crafting education policy or education in general. And, of course, Elizabeth Warren thinks she supports gay conversion therapy.

So, again, why? Because I move beyond that. Context is important here. She’s not applying to be a teacher, a principle or a superintendent. If that was the case I’d want her to have a background in education. But she’s not. She’s heading a byzantine bureaucracy not a school.  At some point it simply becomes impossible for somebody to relate their experience as a teacher into national policies that impact all schools.

Now, with that out of the way I am excited about DeVos for three reasons. First, she’ll bring an outsider perspective to education policy. Second, she has promised to obey legislative and executive edicts. Lastly, she is a rabid supporter of choice and charter schools.

When you operate so long in a certain setting you tend to mimic that setting. Likewise the policies and rules from that setting. For example, Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education mimics the top down approaches of liberal policy experts. It’s about control.

Duncan hails from the Chicago School District where he was Superintendent.  In that district rules and policies are crafted based on standardization and simply getting students up to a minimal standard.  This one size fits all approach has been mimicked in federal education policy since Obama took office.

In contrast, DevVs, does not have this problem. She might be a novice on policy but that is what staff is for. And let’s be honest, lower-level staff at the Department of Education implement actual policy.

Secondly, she grasps her role in the system. Since 2009, Obama and Duncan have ignored congressional wishes in education. In particular, the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), passed in 2015 by bipartisan majorities.  The president has largely ignored the parts of the law he did not like as has Duncan. In her confirmation hearing, Devos said she would implement it as Congress intended. Finally, somebody who understands their role.

Finally, she is a real, honest to god supporter of choice. She doesn’t just talk about it but practices it. Her foundation has given millions to charters and private schools in Michigan and nationally.

We actually have an Education Secretary who understands and supports choice. This might actually mean national policy is crafted to allow states to spend more money on charter schools.

Charter schools and choice is a tricky issue. Many teachers, my wife included, see them as a threat. Others, including minority families trapped in failing schools see them as godsends (NYC and New Orleans).

Depending on the state many charter schools suffer in ways traditional public schools do not.  For example, charter schools in many states cannot collect property taxes or pass supplemental levies.  They are funded solely through private donations and state general funds.  This puts them, oftentimes, in troubling financial situations on a consistent basis.

Additionally, depending on how policy is crafted and what decisions are made down the chain you can have strong charter schools in poor districts and alternatively, charters doing little but catering to affluent white areas.

Fortunately, as a proponent of choice she seems to understand the concerns and alternatives. Still, even so, she iterated in her hearing that states and localities should decide where and how they spend money. Not the Department of Education.

I can hear the gasps now about my excitement. How can I overlook all her flaws?  Why, she can’t even decide whether she supports proficiency or improvement. Well, her strengths outweigh her weaknesses.

Obama promised to be a champion for the urban kid and yet appointed a life long union bureaucrat to implement change.  That bureaucrat wasted billions trying to force schools to change in exchange for some federal cash.

For all the talk of Trump being a racist he appointed somebody who wants all kids to succeed whether white, brown or black. That is exciting in itself.

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.

Pennsylvania’s Changing Political Face

trump-erie-pennsylvania-91In 2008, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by 10 percent and followed it up with a 5 percent win in 2012.  But, Donald Trump broke the Democratic streak of carrying the state since 1992, by a narrow 45,000 vote margin (less than one percent).  More importantly, how Trump did it represents how Pennsylvania is changing politically.

I have already written how Trump and Senator Pat Toomey won the state via different electoral groups.  Toomey’s win can be credited to his strength in the suburbs.  Trump outran his shoddy performance in the suburbs by running up massive, massive margins in rural Central and Western Pennsylvania.

Courtesy of the Daily Kos we now can see how Pennsylvania’s voted shifted from 12-16 by region and Congressional District.

Let’s start by region.  Regionally, Central Pennsylvania and Western Pennsylvania turned bright red.  For example, traditional Democratic counties like Erie in Northwestern Pennsylvania and Luzerne in North-Central Pennsylvania both voted for Trump.  The only bright spot for Democrats in either region was blue Pittsburgh (Allegeny County), Penn State (Centre County) and Harrisburg (Dauphin County).

In the suburbs, the former strength of the GOP in the state, Trump finished 50,000 votes behind Romney.  Combined with Philly Trump actually had to make up a gap of 67,000 additional votes compared to Romney  How Trump did this can be seen at the Congressional District level.

Four years ago, Romney won 12 of the state’s 18 districts while Trump won 11 districts.  He traded two Romney districts for one Obama district.  Trump won the 17th CD by 10 percent while Obama took the Scranton based district by 12 percent for a massive, 22 percent swing from 12-16.  If not for the fact the Democratic Congressman, Matt Cartwright, faced weak GOP competition in the 17th, he might have lost this ancestrally blue district.

To the South, due to Trump’s weakness in the suburbs, Clinton managed to win squeakers in the 6th and 7th districts by two percent each.  However, due to the fact Clinton only garnered 11, 000 votes from the districts while Trump won 31,000 additional votes from the 17th he got the better of the deal.

Combine this with Trump’s significantly bigger margins in GOP districts in the North and West and Trump’s path to victory, narrow as it was, gets clearer.  The only district beyond Philly that did not swing widely was the Pittsburgh based 14th, which went 67-31 for Clinton compared to 68-31 for Obama four years ago.

Case in point.  Erie County.  Obama won the county with 57 percent in 2012.  Trump took the county with 48 percent.  Unlike other counties that swung to the Donald, turnout actually increased by 6,000 votes in the county.  Further, while Obama lost every other western border county he garnered 40 percent or more in five of the six.  Clinton did not top 40 percent in a single one.  Combined with Erie she did not win a single western border county.

Whether Trump’s win is unique or not remains to be seen.  But, Toomey’s victory also proved the party has multiple and evolving paths to victory in this state.  Something nobody would have said until November of last year.