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.