Thursday, May 10, 2018

'Blue wave' Democrats hope for in fall elections isn't likely unless they do better with voters outside the largest cities

With the midterm elections approaching, pundits and news stories keep talking about a possible "blue wave," a surge in votes for Democrats as a response to President Trump and Republican policies. In this narrative, rural residents triggered Republican control of Congress in 2010 and the White House in 2016, "at best a misleading and incomplete account," Bill Bishop and Tim Marema write for The Daily Yonder. "And it also misses a more important trend in the nation’s politics since Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008: the increasing concentration of Democratic voters into the largest metropolitan areas."

Democrats have been losing voters outside large metros since 1980, but the trend is accelerating. "Democrats don’t have a rural problem. They’ve got an everywhere-but-the-nation’s-largest-cities problem," Bishop and Marema report. They broke down communities into six categories: Major Metro Core (pop. 1 million or more), Major Metro Suburbs (the suburban counties of major metropolitan areas), Medium Metro Core (pop. 250,000 to 999,999), Medium Metro Suburbs (the suburban counties of medium-sized metropolitan areas), Small Metro (pop. 50,000 to 249,999), and Nonmetro/Rural (all counties not located in a metropolitan statistical area). On the charts below, the red and blue lines denote congressional races, while the columns denote presidential races:
Daily Yonder map; click on the image to enlarge it.
Bishop and Marema note that rural voters didn't heavily swing Republican until 2010, two years after Democrats won the White House and took control of Congress. They have since turned more Republican, but so have smaller metros, to a lesser extent.

"For a 'blue wave' to crash into Washington this election season, Democrats will have to do more than activate the major metropolitan base," Bishop and Marema write. "That tactic was enough to get Obama re-elected in 2012 but not enough to fend off Donald Trump in 2016. And for congressional races, it hasn’t been enough to win a House majority since 2008."

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