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Saturday, November 19, 2016


The map is the math

by Tom Sullivan

2016 electoral map via 270 to Win.

Reaching back to a Sunday column from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution just ahead of the Democratic National Convention in 1988. Lewis Grizzard (Elvis Is Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Myself) answered 10 stupid questions national reporters visiting the Atlanta had asked him. One was, "Do you have a lot of rednecks around here?" Grizzard answered (recalling this from memory):

"Well I've never been exactly sure what the definition of redneck is. But if by redneck you mean someone who wears white socks, drives a truck, and isn't particularly fond of black people, yeah we have some people like that around here. What do y'all call 'em in New York, Chicago and Boston?"
I bring it up because a lot of progressives are rather peeved about the outcome of this month's national election, and not feeling warmly inclined towards our brethren in the South and elsewhere that voted heavily for Donald Trump. The press is all aflutter about white, working-class voters and how their supposed backlash in red states against multiculturalism threw the election to Trump. Whatever the press is calling them today, they are not unique to one region of the country.

The new focus on the white working-class seems misplaced. NPR examined a national split that seems to be more on point:
Here's another divide that started to get more attention this election: the rural-urban gap. Rural voters vote more Republican, while urban voters vote more Democratic, and that divide grew this year from where it was in 2012 and 2008. It's a nuanced divide, too; strikingly, as counties get progressively more rural, they more or less steadily grow more Republican. And it's possible that living in a rural area caused people to vote more Republican this election.

Exit polls show that the rural-urban divide grew from 2008 to 2012, and again this election. What's particularly interesting is that the rural vote seems to have moved more than the urban or suburban votes.
Rural voters tend to be older, whiter, and less-educated. That is, the more rural the county, the more likely people there match the demographics of a Trump voter. Urban voters went for Obama in 2012 by 26 points. Danielle Kurtzeleben reports, "Clinton lost a small share of votes in urban areas from 2012's levels, but she lost a bigger share of votes in areas that were more rural." NPR found Trump dominating in those areas back in August:
All these stats might make it seem that it's demographics that cause rural voters to choose Trump, or other Republican candidates: that there's something about being white or about being older or not having a college diploma that makes a person vote for him, and that those people also just happen to live in rural areas.

Or, perhaps, that there's something about being conservative that makes a person choose a rural area. That may be true — Pew has found that (for whatever reason) people who are conservative prefer places where the population is more spread-out, while liberals prefer denser neighborhoods.

But as one researcher argues, living in a rural area by itself shapes a person's politics, and can particularly drive a voter toward Trump.

"There's this sense that people in those communities are not getting their fair share compared to people in the cities," said Katherine Cramer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin who studied how Gov. Scott Walker appealed to rural voters.

"They feel like their communities are dying, and they perceive that all that stuff — the young people, the money, the livelihood — is going somewhere, and it's going to the cities," she said.
There are other theories besides "rural resentment" for why people supported Trump — authoritarianism, racism, "economic anxiety":
Generalized "economic anxiety" has also been a popular explanation throughout the election, though a recent Gallup paper cast doubt on the idea that Trump voters are unusually plagued by low incomes or adverse effects from trade or immigration. That study, however, showed that Trump voters do come from areas where intergenerational mobility is low, and where white mortality rates are higher (and those mortality rates have climbed in rural areas, in particular).
So, what to do? First, I don't believe everybody who voted for Trump is a racist. There is no single cause for Clinton's defeat: not racism, authoritarianism, "economic anxiety," xenophobia, an uninspiring Democratic candidate, voter suppression, fake news, Wikileaks, Vladimir Putin, or James Comey.

I have no sympathy for racists, rural or urban. But if Democrats expect to be a national party, they are going to need to make inroads again in the red states, whatever urbanites feel about fellow citizens in the vast stretches of red on the map that supported Trump. Those states cannot be wished away or written off. This is not sympathy for the devil, real or imagined. It's math.

If, for example, Democrats would like to see a veto-proof Senate, that will take 67 senators, or 33 of 50 states with two Democratic senators each, plus 1.

So okay, want to write off 17 red states? No problemo. Let's start with the old Confederacy. That's 11 right there. Now we need six more. Add in Republican-voting border states Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and West Virginia. Plus Indiana because, please. And finally Kansas, because what's the matter with them anyway?

Now we have to elect 2 Democratic senators in 33 other states, and there aren't that many states on the east and west coasts. Hillary Clinton won only 20 states in November 2016 (including part of Maine). So that's 13 states that went for Trump where if Democrats want a veto-proof Senate they need to persuade voters to elect Democratic senators.

The anger progressives hold for Trump voters in those red states is both unproductive and non-strategic. If we want to repair the damage coming from a Trump administration and change the map, we have to engage red-state voters who can be reached and not forfeit them to the right, or else we are just howling at the moon. Winning out there was what Howard Dean's 50-state plan was about, and the party abandoned it.

Any focus on white, rural voters will aggravate some groups that make up Democrats' multicultural coalition. But progressive politics is not a zero-sum game where if Democrats invest again in organizing rural voters, the progressive coalition in the urban centers gets ignored. Thinking rural lives matter doesn't mean only rural lives matter. That's no way to think about it. In the end, the math is the math.