Tag Archives: demographics

America the Divided

A new Brookings Institution report shows that a substantial majority of Americans live in counties that did not vote for Donald Trump.

The contentious political back and forth seen daily in the media, cable TV, and polls should come as no surprise in a nation where Donald Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. Newly released Census population estimates for 2016 provide further evidence of just why the nation’s politics are split demographically. These data show that 31 million fewer Americans live in counties that voted for Trump than in those carried by Hillary Clinton…

While it is true that Clinton took less than one sixth of the nation’s 3,100+ counties, she won most of the largest ones, including 111 of the 137 counties with over 500,000 people. Trump won the Electoral College by successfully navigating rural-urban balances in key swing states, taking small areas by large vote margins.

The report–replete with multi-colored graphs– is well worth studying. It also describes the demographics of those Trump and Clinton counties, noting that when they are classified by income,  the least well-off households are over represented in Trump counties and the most well-off households are underrepresented.

Generally, Trump counties are least likely to be home to those with “urban” attributes. Only about one in five foreign-born residents live in these counties, compared with a much larger share of the United States’ native-born population (49 percent) that calls these places home. Fewer single than married persons are Trump county residents. Especially sharp divides are seen by race and ethnicity. Less than one fifth of all Asians and less than one third of all Hispanics and blacks live in counties carried by Trump.

I have written previously about the increasing urban/rural divide, and the Brookings research adds considerable data confirming that divide.

Still more confirmation is contained in an article from the Atlantic, titled “Red State, Blue City.”

The article begins by underscoring the decidedly progressive politics of cities, and the growing numbers of people choosing to live in them, but it also makes an often-overlooked point:

If liberal advocates are clinging to the hope that federalism will allow them to create progressive havens, they’re overlooking a big problem: Power may be decentralized in the American system, but it devolves to the state, not the city.

City folks in Indiana are painfully aware of that reality; Indianapolis is the economic generator in a state that barely  pretends to allow municipalities any self-determination. There’s no meaningful “home rule” in Indiana. The article also points out that most state-level policymaking is conservative:

That’s partly because Republicans enjoy unprecedented control in state capitals—they hold 33 governorships and majorities in 32 state legislatures. The trend also reflects a broader shift: Americans are in the midst of what’s been called “the Big Sort,” as they flock together with people who share similar socioeconomic profiles and politics. In general, that means rural areas are becoming more conservative, and cities more liberal. Even the reddest states contain liberal cities: Half of the U.S. metro areas with the biggest recent population gains are in the South, and they are Democratic. Texas alone is home to four such cities; Clinton carried each of them. Increasingly, the most important political and cultural divisions are not between red and blue states but between red states and the blue cities within.

There is no love lost between these progressive cities and the rural areas surrounding them.

In most states, agriculture is no longer king. Rural areas are struggling, while densely packed areas with highly educated workforces and socially liberal lifestyles flourish. In turn, rural voters harbor growing resentment toward those in cities, from Austin to Atlanta, from Birmingham to Chicago….

By and large, though, cities hold the weaker hand. It makes sense that these areas, finding themselves economically vital, increasingly progressive, and politically disempowered, would want to use local ordinances as a bulwark against conservative state and federal policies. But this gambit is likely to backfire. Insofar as states have sometimes granted cities leeway to enact policy in the past, that forbearance has been the result of political norms, not legal structures. Once those norms crumble, and state legislatures decide to assert their authority, cities will have very little recourse.

An important lesson of last year’s presidential election is that American political norms are much weaker than they had appeared, allowing a scandal-plagued, unpopular candidate to triumph—in part because voters outside of cities objected to the pace of cultural change. Another lesson is that the United States is coming to resemble two separate countries, one rural and one urban.

Only one of them, at present, appears entitled to self-determination.

The Youth Vote

If demography is destiny, the handwriting is on the wall.

Many years ago, I had an enlightening conversation with friend active in Libertarian politics. He was trying to recruit candidates who would appeal to Republicans who were becoming disenchanted with the culture warriors who had seized control of the GOP. He saw a window of opportunity for the Libertarians–if they could moderate some of their positions just a little, they could take advantage of that window and substantially increase their share of the vote. The problem was, the party’s core–the absolutists–were unwilling to move even a little toward the middle, and keeping their pro-gun, pro-gold-standard, anti-public-schools base was critical to any electoral success. So the window closed.

Today’s GOP finds itself in an analogous position. The party has come to depend upon an aging, angry base that repels not only women, immigrants and minorities, but increasingly, younger Americans.  It’s caught between that same rock and hard place that has kept the Libertarians from achieving mainstream status.

The party’s establishment has now realized the problem, but solving it is going to be another thing entirely.



The Long Game

I rarely watch daytime or weekend television, but I caught a really thought-provoking discussion earlier this morning. “Up with Chris Hayes” had a panel discussing–what else?–the recent conventions. This discussion was a bit different, however; it began with Hayes’ observation about a shift in the tone of Americans’ interminable “culture war.”

Hayes noted something that had struck me as well: whereas in previous election cycles, the Republicans had been the “aggressors” on culture war issues and the Democrats had largely been defensive, this year the roles were reversed. Whatever their message to the rabid base, in public Republicans ran away from the rhetoric of folks like Scott Akin, pooh-poohed the notion that they were anti-contraception (personhood amendment? what personhood amendment?), barely mentioned same-sex marriage, and tried to obscure their position on immigration by highlighting their most prominent Latino, Marco Rubio.

The Democrats, on the other hand, mounted a pretty full-throated defense of reproductive rights, trumpeted their platform’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, and even featured a young speaker who personally benefitted from the President’s “Dream Act Lite” Executive Order.

The turnaround, when you think about it, was pretty extraordinary.

It would be nice to think that Democrats’ willingness to champion these issues was evidence that the party has grown a spine, but let’s get real. I can guarantee that each of these decisions was based upon extensive polling and focus group results–just as the GOP’s decision to soft-pedal and obscure their own views undoubtedly was. These decisions reflected profound changes in public opinion, as Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster on the panel, confirmed. The Democrats have pretty much won the culture wars. (When my generation dies off, the victory will be complete.)

This discussion elicited a really interesting observation from one of the panelists, who described the Democratic strategy as long-term, and the GOPs as short-term. The Republicans are arguing that their candidate is more competent to manage the economy. Even if they are able to win this election with that argument, their next candidate may be viewed as competent or not–it’s an argument that will have to be made “from scratch.” The Democrats are arguing that they are the party better able to manage America–the party that will better reflect the economic and social needs and beliefs of women, immigrants, GLBT folks and the middle class. If they maintain that image, it is an identity will serve the party into the future.

They are playing the demographic long game.

Republicans know the demographics are against them–at least, against what the once Grand Old Party has become.

If this is, as many pundits insist, a “base” election, the election of 2012 will come down to turnout, and the Democratic base is already much larger than the Republican base. Hence the almost frantic efforts to disenfranchise poor and minority voters and constrict voting hours. Hence the gazillions of dollars being poured into the Presidential and Congressional campaigns. Those tactics might work this time, although I’m increasingly inclined to think they won’t, but   the culture is moving fast and in a direction that makes future victories unlikely in the absence of a move back toward the political center.

Of course, a Romney reprise of the George W. Bush Administration can do a lot of damage in the short term.