Thursday, November 08, 2018

Election firms up political realignment that began years ago but is now driven by President Trump

"The midterm elections brought to a head a decade-long realignment of the U.S.’s major political parties, with Democrats winning contests in and around major cities while Republicans carried rural and small-town America," Reid Epstein and Janet Hook report for The Wall Street Journal. "Just as rural white voters fled the Democratic Party after Mr. Obama took office, educated suburbanites abandoned the GOP after President Trump’s election. Those trends continued Tuesday, and will not only alter the governing coalitions in Washington but also will change how and where candidates engage with the American electorate."

The divide "exposes fundamental problems for each party," Hook and Epstein write. "Republicans are the party of older, white Americans, many without college degrees, a demographic that is shrinking as a percentage of the population. Democrats are clustered in cities and suburbs, hampering their chances in rural districts."
Screenshot of Wall Street Journal interactive chart
"Rural" is a broad brush, and rural politics differ from region to region, as the results of two governor's races show. "The Republican candidates who appear to have won squeaker gubernatorial contests in Georgia and Florida blew the doors off their Democratic opponents in rural counties," Tim Marema writes for The Daily Yonder. "On the other hand, Democrats who won close governor races in Wisconsin and Kansas kept the rural vote more competitive."

In Wisconsin, Democrat Mark Evers ousted Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who had benefited from rural resentment, with an interesting mix of urban and suburban votes. The result was similar in Kansas, where Democrat Laura Kelly defeated Republican Kris Kobach. In Florida, where U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis beat Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, "the pattern of Republican support climbing as counties become more rural was apparent," the Yonder notes.
The Wall Street Journal story suggests that the clearest example of realignment is along the lines of educational attainment: "Democrats hold 81 percent of House districts with the highest shares of bachelor’s degrees, up from half of such districts in 1998. Republicans hold nearly 60 percent of House districts with the lowest shares of bachelor’s degrees, compared with 44 percent in 1998."

Rural areas tend to have lower educational attainment. "In the 2010 midterm election, Republicans picked up 18 suburban districts and 41 seats situated in blue-collar or rural areas. In Tuesday’s contests, they lost at least 27 suburban seats, enough to give the Democrats the House majority. The GOP forfeited just seven seats in rural or small towns."

In Iowa, a quintessential swing state, former prosecutor Rob Sand "said Democrats can’t expect to win in Iowa or nationally if they don’t figure out a way to compete in rural areas," the Journal reports. "His campaign for state auditor emphasized cultural issues. He talked about his first job catching chickens on a farm and printed campaign banners attached to trophy deer mounts." He won.

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