Looking Forward to 2020

The 2018 midterm-election results are in and it’s clear the anticipated “blue wave” happened; Democrats rolled to a convincing victory in the House of Representatives — gaining at least 39 seats.  But it’s also clear that Republican voters didn’t give up; where he needed to, Donald Trump turned out his base.  As a result, Republicans held onto the Senate and won key governor’s races.  This sets the stage for a very competitive race in 2020.

Looking forward to 2020, there are several factors to consider:

1. A lot of Americans voted on November 6th.  More than 116 million Americans voted; 49.3 percent of the voting-eligible population — the highest midterm percentage since 1914 (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/11/19/18103110/2018-midterm-elections-turnout ).   Voters turned out where there were competitive races — for example, Montana (62.1 percent) where there was a competitive Senate race — and often where there wasn’t — for example, in my congressional district (CA 13) where 66.7 percent voted and Congresswoman Barbara Lee got 88.3 percent of the vote.

538’s Nate Silver estimates that more than 60 million voters cast ballots for Democratic congressional candidates — compared to 63 million Trump voters in 2016.

2.Democrats regained an Electoral College advantage.  As we learned in 2016, in a presidential contest it’s not sufficient to win the overall popular vote; the key is to prevail in enough states to win the electoral college.  After the midterms, 538’s Nate Silver did a projection of what the electoral college would look like in 2020 (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-2018-map-looked-a-lot-like-2012-and-that-got-me-thinking-about-2020/ ) — Trump versus an anonymous Democrat.  Dems win with 314 electoral votes.

Silver’s analysis is complicated but he notes the key to a 2020 Democratic win is the fact they appear to have regained political control in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — states that Trump narrowly won in 2016 and that provided him with his electoral college win.

In the 538 analysis, Silver says Dems can win even if they lose seven swing states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas.  But, it seems unlikely that they would lose all of these states in 2020; for example, Democrats are surging in Arizona and just won a Senate seat (Sinema) and 5 of 9 congressional races.

3.There’s an urban-rural divide.  Writing in Mother Jones, Kevin Drum noted that among 2018 white voters, support for Democrats went up by 22 points among those with a college education — compared with 2016 — and down by 8 eight points among those without a college education (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/11/heres-how-different-groups-really-voted-in-2018/ ).  (The New York Times reported that, unlike 2016, 50 percent of white women voted for a Democrat.)

A recent Alternet article (https://www.alternet.org/its-official-first-time-history-gop-has-become-party-rural-white-voters?src=newsletter1098031 ) declared: “If there was one demographic group that blunted the force of the ‘blue wave’ in this month’s midterm elections, it was rural white voters.”  The CNN exit polls indicate that 56 percent of rural voters favored Republicans (versus an even 49-49 percent split in the suburbs and only 32 percent in suburban areas).

It’s easy to see this rural/non-rural divide in California.  The Golden State has 53 congressional districts.  In 2018, Republicans lost several seats — notably those in Orange county — and now control only eight.  (Districts 1, 4, 8, 21, 22, 23, 42, and 50; BTW, 21 is still “too close to call.”)  These are rural districts; primarily on the eastern border of the state.

While Democrats could win the 2020 presidential election without rural voters, it’s important to understand their perspective, if Dems want to unify the nation and take control of the Senate in 2020.

4.The urban-rural divide is a proxy for a new tribalism.  Alternet notes: “As the suburbs have turned against the Republican Party of President Donald Trump, rural whites have embraced the Party’s new message of economic protectionism, immigration restrictions, and an ‘America First’ foreign policy.” [emphasis added]

A recent large survey of 8000 voters helps to understand the emerging split between urban and rural voters.  The Hidden Tribes Survey (https://hiddentribes.us ), conducted by the More in Common Institute, identified seven “tribal” groups: Progressive Activists (8 percent of the population); Traditional Liberals (11 percent of the population); Passive Liberals (15 percent of the population); The Politically Disengaged (26 percent of the population); Moderates (15 percent of the population); Traditional Conservatives (19 percent of the population); and Devoted Conservatives (6 percent of the population).

The strongest views are those held by the Progressive Activists, Traditional Liberals, Traditional Conservatives, and Devoted Conservatives.  That’s where the big ideological divides occur.  As one would one expect, 99 percent of Progressive Activists disapprove of Donald Trump and 98 percent of Devoted Conservatives approve of him.

The most notable divisions occur on hot button topics, such as immigration.  99 percent of Progressive Activists agree with the statement: “Immigration is good for America, helping sectors of our economy to be more successful and competitive.” On the other hand, 90 percent of Devoted Conservatives agree with the statement: “Immigration nowadays is bad for America, costing the welfare system and using resources that could be spent on Americans.”

The Hidden Tribes researchers did not ask direct questions about Trump’s economic policies, such as economic protectionism.  But they did ask a question that serves as a proxy: the role of personal responsibility in life outcomes.  For example, 92 percent of Devoted Conservatives agree with the statement: “People who work hard can find success no matter what situation they were born into.”  Whereas, 90 percent of Progressive Activists agree: “Some people’s situations are so challenging that no amount of work will allow them to find success.”

Summary: Considering the information in the Hidden Tribes study, it seems obvious that Donald Trump played to traditional conservative beliefs to turn out rural voters in the 2018 midterms.  This strategy worked in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Texas.  (For example, Beto O’Rourke would have won the Texas Senate race if rural white voters had not voted overwhelmingly for Ted Cruz.)  Obviously, it did not work in many other areas; the areas with the most voters.  Thus, Democrats start the 2020 campaign with positive momentum.