It’s easy to overlook this election. Two psychopaths running for the White House, few states appearing likely to flip and another Democrat set to measure the drapes in the Oval Office. Except, despite the similarities, the differences from 2008 and 2012 are massive. And, dare I say it, realigning.
Until this election we knew that more blue-collar whites, particularly men, were joining the GOP. But, we underestimated just how quickly they would change the party and where its strength lay. For decades the party was dominant in Midwestern and Northeastern suburbs full of white-collar professionals. But, as white collar voters filtered into the Democratic camp a corresponding number of down-scale whites joined the GOP. In 2010 and 2014 the party mitigated these two diverse camps with an anti-Democratic message. But, in 2012 and this cycle they have struggled. In fact, the struggle is so harsh for the party they might lose white college graduates for the first time since 1964.
The evidence for this realignment can be seen at the state and county level. Whereas Colorado and Virginia are increasingly looking blue the down-scale and solidly white states of Iowa and Ohio are looking redder. What separates these states is not just race but socio-economic status. Virginia and Colorado have an above average college educated populace. Iowa and Ohio, despite their well-known universities, have below average college graduation whites.
You can see this in the Congressional races Democrats are targeting due to Trump’s struggles. Not a single one of the GOP’s 12 districts in Ohio are being targeted in the state. But, every single GOP district in Colorado (including the rural ones) and three districts in Virginia are being targeted by Democrats. Not more than three elections ago, Democrats controlled a solid majority of Ohio and Iowa’s Congressional districts.
The counties also tell a story. Youngstown, Ohio is the ancestral home of the state Democratic Party. But as its population has shrunk and its economy has contracted the city’s voters have become increasingly resistant to a more liberal Democratic message. Enter Donald Trump.
Trump’s populist message (lost to the media due to his rhetoric but not his supporters) was the final straw that drove many Democrats to the GOP. In turn, Trump’s message is not resonating in increasingly upscale suburbs based around Cincinnati and Columbus. He might win some of these suburbs but not by as large of margins as Romney. It might not matter though. At least in this election. Clinton’s own struggles with her base in Columbus and Cleveland is allowing Trump to run well-ahead of his numbers
The same story can be seen in Iowa. The difference in Iowa is that the Des Moines suburbs are chalk full of blue-collar whites and evangelicals (different from Ohio). Trump will likely run up big margins in these suburbs that Romney could only hope for.
In Pennsylvania, Nevada, and New Hampshire the same trend is developing. But, Democrats are buttressed by their strength in the states growing suburbs. Also, unlike Ohio and Iowa, these states have a diverse or more college educated electorate.
On the plus side for Democrats, not only will they retake the White House but they also are making inroads into Georgia, Arizona, and may win North Carolina. Each state has a diversifying and college educated electorate not drawn to the increasingly populist rhetoric of the GOP.
Ironically, while the Presidential map may be shifting the Congressional map is not. The GOP is still a primarily Southern and Midwestern party. But, Trump may help it solidify a solid Congressional delegation in the blue Northeast. In turn, the party will probably lose seats in suburban Virginia, Colorado, and Philly suburbs.
The GOP going forward will need to find a way to gel the two wings of the party. They are growing apart culturally, politically, and economically. If Republicans don’t find a unifying message, the party might be split in two.
Before Democrats get too giddy they should also consider their own party has deep, deep issues. The Clinton coalition of 2016 is not the Obama coalition of 2012 or 2008. Indeed, Clinton has struggled to activate Millennials and is even struggling among young Hispanics.
Further, the party is struggling to maintain its ties to the business community even as it turns further left on taxes and fiscal policy. While the party has won the allegiance of white-collar voters on social issues in a campaign played out on fiscal issues the GOP can win (see 2014 exit polls where a majority of voters support abortion but voted Republican).
Once the dust settles and the exit polls provide us with data to dissect we will know just how realigning this election was. But county and state data does not lie. While only a few states will shift in November the consequences of this election will long shape America’s political future.