Three weeks after the tumultuous midterm elections, political analysts still crunching Election Day numbers seem to have reached the conclusion that suburban Republican voters rejecting pro-Trump GOP candidates were key to the Democratic success story in congressional races.
In other words, the Detroit area suburbanites — particularly well-educated women, and especially moms of young kids and teens – that stood as a contrarian force amid Donald Trump’s 2016 razor-thin win in Michigan emerged as the pacesetters in 2018.
This time, suburban voters in prosperous areas of Oakland County and western Wayne County shunned their Republican upbringing to an even greater degree, helping to supply the margin of victory for Democrats – Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel.
As is customary, on Nov. 6 Macomb County voters remained the stubborn, maverick group in the bunch as top-of-the-ticket Democrats carried the county by narrow margins – if at all. But it’s also important to remember that the flip in Macomb was a much heavier lift for Dems as Trump won there in 2016 by a surprising 48,000 votes.
Suburban voters ruled
The bottom line is that suburban voters nationwide, even as they remain conflicted on certain issues, delivered the defining difference in the areas outside of Detroit, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, New York and Washington, D.C. The election outcomes in those outer-city areas were not even close, as the Democrats took over the House.
The “second” bottom line is that no one knows how these suburbanites will vote in 2020 as they weigh social issues vs. economic issues, and local issues vs. national issues.
Delusional Democrats believe that the trend toward Blue suburban areas means that these communities now lean toward progressive ideas such as free health care and free college for all. That would be a mistake. These suburbanites remain persuadable voters, independents who lean toward one party or the other without pledging allegiance to either.
One analyst put it this way in an interview with the New York Times: “People are capable of massive intellectual contradictions in politics.”
The question becomes whether these well-off suburban voters can be viewed as reliable partners in a diverse Democratic coalition. Their economic interests at the local level do not align with poorer, minority Democratic voters who want more affordable housing, integrated schools or various social services funded by higher taxes.
Suburbanites remain conflicted
Political scientist Jefferey Sellers told the Times that GOP voters in denser, close-in suburbs tend to be more cosmopolitan than in rural areas and turned off by culture-war issues that animate other Republican voters. But they’re also mostly fiscal conservatives who shun many urban voters’ willingness to expand government.
According to The Washington Post, the racial divide between whites and minorities still creates the biggest electoral valley in America in 2018. But the geography of rural vs. urban – and all the variations of suburbia in between – serves as the fastest growing division within the electorate.
Veteran political pundit Dan Balz of the Post points out that the House will be up for grabs again in 2020, as about half of the roughly 80 most competitive races this year were won by five points or fewer, split about evenly between the two parties.
One more monkey wrench in all the pontificating two years before the next presidential election was presented last week by the nerds over at FiveThirtyEight who have crunched the numbers more than any other news website.
FiveThirtyEight offers the glum view that as recently as the 1970s people cast their votes based on the person rather than the party. Partisan loyalties were often set aside in favor of the character and attributes of an individual candidate.
But in a Nov. 20 piece that offered this cringe-worthy headline, “Everything is partisan and correlated and boring,” the FiveThirtyEight researchers offered an alternate view on the November congressional election results in 2018.
Relying upon their computer programs and algorithms, they found that the midterm election results for the House could have easily been predicted weeks ahead of time. How? Simply by relying upon averages from various generic polls (a voter preference for a Democratic or Republican candidate) plus the analytics that recorded a Dem advantage in competitive races.
In the end, the average Democratic candidate in a contested House district outperformed his or her district’s overall partisan preference by 7.3 percentage points, which almost exactly mirrors the national House popular vote.
In other words, local issues in 2018 had very little impact. The Dem vs. GOP tribalism ruled. And the final midterm numbers showed that the trend toward House races becoming enveloped in national politics took another step forward.
Nathaniel Rakich, the FiveThirtyEight elections analyst, offered this conclusion:
Elections are complex, with many different issues factoring into people’s votes. And even though it’s touted as a national election, the U.S. House of Representatives election is 435 different elections — enough races that the bulk can go to form, while still leaving dozens to move in idiosyncratic ways. Still, those are the exceptions, not the rule. Most districts moved in tandem. That doesn’t mean there are no persuadable voters left in American politics. There are plenty — Democrats couldn’t have carried so many Red districts without them. But those voters are increasingly responding to national issues, not local quirks.