GOP’s Hold On White Working Class Traps Liberals With An Electoral College Nightmare (Even With Favorable Demographic Shifts)

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Feb 22, 2017 2:30 PM
GOP’s Hold On White Working Class Traps Liberals With An Electoral College Nightmare  (Even With Favorable Demographic Shifts)

So, it took Hillary Clinton’s upset loss to Donald Trump to get the Democrats and their allies in the liberal media to notice: Barack Obama might have just been a good candidate, but he wasn’t good for the Democratic Party. In eight years, over 1,000 congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislature slots have been lost to Republicans. They’ve lost control of Congress; the White House is now Republican, and two-thirds of the governorships are Republican.Plus, a whopping 69/99 state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. It’s a total collapse. In fact, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich aptly noted that his party is now on life support, while The American Interest said that one of the biggest losers for the 2016 cycle was the notion of the so-called emerging Democratic majority. A lot of these red flags for the Democrats were raised in January, but here’s the cold hard truth: the Democratic Party is in exile, restricted to their coastal and urban strongholds, which are not enough to win back House seats, Senate seats, and possibly the presidency.

That’s the doomsday scenario for the Left: Democrats increase their share of the popular vote, but still lose presidential elections because the voter surge occurs in areas that don’t matter. In other words, we all know California is going for the Democrats and while they may add 3 to 6 million more to the Democratic popular vote total (just using this figure as an example)—it doesn’t translate into more electoral votes which is the only area that matters in a presidential election. Alex Seitz-Wald of NBC News had a lengthy post in January about how the Democrats’ hold on America has collapsed, along with how their demographics theory that supposedly projected liberal dominance was torpedoed by Trump. Most importantly, Seitz-Wald zeroes in on a fact that was fundamental to Obama’s success in 2008 and 2012: non-college educated whites were the linchpin of the Obama coalition—and it’s exactly the demographic the Democrats need to connect with to mount a comeback:

Obama lost non-college educated whites by large margins in both 2008 and 2012, but they were still crucial to his victory. In fact, he actually won more raw votes from non-college educated whites — because they are so numerous — than from African-Americans, Latinos, or educated whites. They remain the single largest demographic voting bloc, even as their share declines slowly over time.

[…]

The last white Deep Southern Democrat in Congress, Georgia Rep. John Barrow, wasn’t ousted until 2014. And it took until 2016 for Democrats to lose their final legislative chamber in the South, the Kentucky House of Representatives, which they had held without interruption since 1920.

The day after the election, Democrats woke up to a party that had lost most rural areas of the country, leaving behind a map that today looks like an archipelago of blue cities swimming in an ocean of red.

[…]

Democrats’ wipe out in rural areas is politically deadly.

The party’s most obvious problem in 2016 was geographic: They got more votes across the country, but in the wrong places.

It’s all about gerrymandering, right? Not the case:

Obama’s former Attorney General Eric Holder recently launched a party-wide effort, backed by the outgoing president, focused on turning the tables on gerrymandering by winning back state legislatures ahead of 2020, when they will redraw congressional districts. The effort is crucial to Democrats’ ability to win back the House, since the party has only one chance to change the maps every 10 years.

But Democrats a have a deeper, structural problem beyond gerrymandering. Democrats lost the House in 2010 before Republicans had redrawn the maps.

The problem is quirky but its effects are profound: Electorally speaking, Democrats live in the wrong places.

America’s electoral system rewards the party whose voters are more spread out across the map and, for now, that means the GOP. Democrats are densely packed in major cities where they waste millions of votes winning inefficiently huge margins that can’t be effectively redistributed no matter which party is drawing the congressional districts.

[…]

Jowie Chen, a professor at the University of Michigan, has run hundreds of computer simulations to compare real election results to hypothetical ones in non-gerrymandered districts. The results show Democrats’ unintentional self-gerrymandering is arguably a bigger handicap than the GOP’s intentional gerrymandering.

In 2014, for instance, Republicans won 247 House seats with the help of Republican-leaning districts gerrymandered after the 2010 census. According to Chen’s simulations, however, the GOP still would have won 245 seat if the election were run again in non-gerrymandered districts.

[…]

Because of the urbanization of the Democratic Party, any sort of geographic line-drawing is inherently going to value the rural party, and that’s the Republicans,” said Chen.

And now, the doomsday scenario [emphasis mine]:

Last year, two demographers influential in Democratic circles, Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution and Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress, along with Center for American Progress statistician and policy expert Rob Griffin, explored a half dozen possible paths for each party in the 2016 election. Most scenarios they ran through their rigorous statistical analysis favored Democrats, given the country’s underlying demographic change in the party’s favor. But one represented the party’s nightmare: Scenario F.

Scenario F predicted a hypothetical surge of white working class voters for Republicans on Election Day, similar to the one that actually helped Trump win. Their prediction nearly nailed the results (they missed the regional nature of Trump’s bump, assuming the surge would be more national), so Teixeira and Fry’s other conclusions should worry Democrats.

If they can keep those white working class voters in future presidential elections, “Republicans could obtain and keep an electoral vote advantage over a number of cycles, despite underlying demographic changes that favor Democrats,” the simulations predicted.

Worse, even if Democrats got a similarly sized surge in minority votes — Scenario E — “Democrats do not pick up any additional electoral votes,” the researchers added.

Unfortunately for Democrats, their geographic and demographic challenges overlap.

In other words, as it’s been known for some time—Latino voters live in states that aren’t competitive in national elections; California isn’t going red and Texas won’t be turning blue. Even a candidate (Trump) who has been aggressive in his language about immigration enforcement was not enough to cause a surge of Latino participation in 2016. Their turnout was relatively steady, increasing just 1 percent from 2012—and Trump did 2 percentage points better than Romney.

So, what to do? The article noted that the college-educated, and mostly liberal, segments of America flock to the cities for economic opportunities, while the non-college educated stay home. Therein rests the urban/rural divide and the emerging Republican stronghold that covers most of the country. To reverse this trend, liberals don’t know what to do. Wald cited ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis who said that hipsters should move to Iowa. I don’t think that’s going to work. Moreover, we’ve seen what happens when liberals move to rural America; they make them more Republican because of their insufferable politics. The question for Democrats is very much a red pill, blue pill option. Risk the wrath of nonwhite voters in the Democratic Party for shifting focus away from issues, like Black Lives Matter, and focus trying to win back these white working class voters that number in the tens of millions through a concerted economic messaging campaign. Or double-down on identity politics and hope the Republican advantage in the rural areas dies out. The latter isn’t coming any time soon—and Wald notes the dangers of both. Democrats aren’t guaranteed that white working class voters will return to the rank-and-file. The Left’s relationship with identity politics from the urban areas blanketed the rural areas that had good numbers of Democrats with a thick smugness that has pushed them closer to the GOP, shocked at being shunned to push an agenda based on speech codes, safe spaces, and political correctness.

On the other hand, the wait-and-die strategy (waiting for older GOP voters to kick the bucket) is also fraught with danger. As Wald noted, it would necessitate “a dramatic realignment of political resources away from the traditional battlegrounds. And Democrats would likely need to re-prioritize immigration reform (Arizona) and issues important to African-American voters (Georgia), which may make it harder for the party to reclaim white working class voters.”

In any path, white working class voters are now at the forefront. And it makes sense. This past election and the next one and the one after that will have an electorate that will be around 65-75 percent majority white. A few million votes that shift in either direction can alter an election. The risk and reward is clear for Democrats: try and reconnect with white working class voters; the people who maintained a buffer that allowed Obama to win twice. Yes, Obama never won white working class voters, but he was able to prevent the dam from breaking, which was the GOP running up the score in rural America. Clinton didn’t care about these voters, and they sunk her presidential hopes.

Democrats are thinking about cutting loose white working class whites, but they still remain a key to winning back some ground in rural America. Without gains at the state level, the Democratic Party is at risk of becoming politically dead. Yet, there seems to be some vestiges of a working class reconnect outreach effort. Democrats actually held sessions in January on how to talk to real Americans, an embarrassing reminder of the liberal bubble that dominates the centers of power in the country.

What about Russia and the FBI?

Wald added that some Democrats are thinking 2016 was a fluke, the demographics still favor them, and they should wait things out. Over at The New York Times, Nate Cohn noted a few things, namely that the Obama coalition and Clinton already had a rocky relationship before the allegations of Russian hacking and the FBI's emergence as a prominent fixture of the 2016 cycle. He also noted that Trump was also winning over large swaths of Obama voters. Once again, the white working class demographic seems to be the Democrats’ exit from the political wilderness:

…the electoral trends that put Donald J. Trump within striking distance of victory were clear long before Mr. Comey sent his letter. They were clear before WikiLeaks published hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee. They were even clear back in early July, before Mr. Comey excoriated Mrs. Clinton for using a private email server.

It was clear from the start that Mrs. Clinton was struggling to reassemble the Obama coalition.

At every point of the race, Mr. Trump was doing better among white voters without a college degree than Mitt Romney did in 2012 — by a wide margin. Mrs. Clinton was also not matching Mr. Obama’s support among black voters.

This was the core of the Obama coalition: an alliance between black voters and Northern white voters, from Mr. Obama’s first win in the 2008 Iowa caucuses to his final sprint across the so-called Midwestern Firewall states where he staked his 2012 re-election bid.

[…]

It was a decisive break from recent trends. White voters without college degrees, for the first time, deviated from the national trend and swung decidedly toward the Republicans. No bastion of white, working-class Democratic strength was immune to the trend.

For the first time in the history of the two parties, the Republican candidate did better among low-income whites than among affluent whites, according to exit poll data and a compilation of New York Times/CBS News surveys.

[…]

…Mr. Trump expanded on Republican gains among older working-class white voters, according to Upshot estimates, while erasing most of Mr. Obama’s gains among younger Northern white voters without a degree.

His gains among younger working-class whites were especially important in the Upper Midwest. Young white working-class voters represent a larger share of the vote there than anywhere else in the country. Mr. Obama’s strength among them — and Mrs. Clinton’s weakness — was evident from the beginning of the 2008 primaries.

[…]

The Clinton team knew what was wrong from the start, according to a Clinton campaign staffer and other Democrats. Its models, based on survey data, indicated that they were underperforming Mr. Obama in less-educated white areas by a wide margin — perhaps 10 points or more — as early as the summer.

The campaign looked back to respondents who were contacted in 2012, and found a large number of white working-class voters who had backed Mr. Obama were now supporting Mr. Trump.

[…]

Mr. Trump won 20 percent of self-identified liberal white working-class voters, according to the exit polls, and 38 percent of those who wanted policies that were more liberal than Mr. Obama’s.

Cohn also wrote in June of 2016 that the white vote was being underestimated, which also buoyed Trump’s chances.

Republicans should be riding high. They’re the dominant political force in the country, but like everything, this Trump coalition is tentative. They swing. If Trump fails to deliver on key areas, like immigration, tax reform, trade, and job creation, they’ll easily vote him out. Luckily, Trump has assembled the most conservative cabinet in decades and a solid Supreme Court nominee. He’s also issued executive actions to get the ball rolling on the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, immigration enforcement, and rolling back regulations. Congress needs to start doing its part now, but that’s for another time.

For now, the Left has gone insane, rejecting President Trump as legitimate, sparking protests across the most liberal parts of the country, and going after anyone who declares their support for the president—whether that be on social media or even dating apps. These tantrums are only furthering entrenching support among Trump’s supporters and pushing moderates in that direction.

As we look to 2018, these stories about how far the Democrats have fallen will continue. Megan McArdle already said that the midterms are going to be brutal for the Left. Also, she worries that the outrage machine that liberals are trying to maintain won’t be sustainable over a four-year period. She already admitted that she’s tired of writing about outrageous stuff Trump has said and worries that voters will tire of these mostly liberal attacks against Trump’s behavior. When Democrats fail to make any meaningful gains after 2018, I’m sure we’ll see more stories about how Democrats are on life support. Maybe they are—and maybe they’re not. Everyone thought that about Republicans in 2006 and 2008. Our system of government is codified in a constitutional federal republic. Public opinion changes, therefore elections can change. At the same time, given these challenges, you could see why Democrats are hoping the GOP splits from Trump. This could be their only sign of relief for possibly a long time.