Future Election Demographics 2.

This is tedious, but I wanted to know more about it. Back before the November 2014 “deluge,”[1] Nate Cohn foresaw the Republican avalanche and explained why it would happen.[2] The Democrats have won the majority of the popular vote in five of six presidential elections, so they represent the majority of Americans, right? Well, no.

Essentially, the Democrats have conquered the big cities.[3] The Republicans have conquered the outskirts of cities and the rural areas. Thus, big cities in “red” states vote “blue” and far-suburban and rural areas of “blue” states vote “red.” However, the urban voters also are irregular voters, while rural and exurban voters are regular voters. So there are two rival constituencies, one alternately larger and smaller; the other steady and strong.

Cohn argues that “more than ever, the kind of place where Americans live—metropolitan or rural—dictates their political views.” This is comforting to American liberals, who associate the people living outside the cities with the supporters of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes “Monkey Trial.” (Awkwardly for this analysis, Bryan was a Democrat.) Obviously, the opposite might just as easily be true: that their political views determine where people live. Maybe, some people are fed up with all the negative factors that they associate with great cities and move elsewhere. Well before President Obama took office, traditionally Democratic voters in places like West Texas and West Virginia abandoned the presidential candidate over “social issues.” It isn’t just him. It’s the party.

The traditional Democratic strategy had been to win more than the cities. The party’s embrace of divisive social causes (gay marriage, abortion, gun control, expanded federal powers in many areas) undermined this strategy. President Obama won election in 2008 and 2012 by wagering on urban core populations. He expanded the Democratic vote in 68 urban areas that had gone for Al Gore in 2004, but didn’t dent the Republican vote anywhere else.[4] In the process of building his “Me-Me-Me” coalition of African-American and hipster voters, the President further alienated part of the old Democratic base.[5] In the future, the party will have to figure out whether it needs to walk back away from some of those positions or to just wait for a majority for voters to catch-up with them. (Growing Republican support for gay marriage and government action on climate change suggest that the latter might be the best approach.)

What works at the level of Presidential races isn’t going to work at the level of House races. At the level of the House of Representatives, two things are true. One is that Democrats have massive majorities in a relatively restricted number of urban Congressional districts. A second is that Republicans generally have narrow-to-solid majorities in a majority of Congressional districts. Thus, many of the votes in Democratic districts are “wasted” votes. In sum, the Republicans have a long-term grip on the majority in the House of Representatives.

Are Democratic policies in cities driving out Republicans to the suburbs and exurbs? Is any struggle within the Republican Party the real story in American politics? Is deadlock between legislature and executive the American fate in an age demanding decisions?


[1] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deluge_%28history%29 for the way that my Democratic friends and family think about it.

[2] Nate Cohn, “Why Democrats Can’t Win,” NYT, 7 September 2014.

[3] They have won the young and the racial minorities—African-Americans above all.

[4] For example, in 2012, President Obama won 52 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania, but only 28 percent of the Congressional districts; 52 percent of the vote in Virginia, but only 36 percent of the Congressional districts. .

[5] This isn’t the same as saying that he permanently alienated them from the Democratic Party.

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