Political News

The two Americas just lurched further apart

Posted November 8, 2018 6:07 a.m. EST

— With Tuesday's House wins, Democrats have established a commanding position in diverse, white-collar, information-age suburban seats around the country. Conversely, after the election, the Republican caucus now tilts even more preponderantly toward districts that are more white, less affluent, and less well-educated than the national average. The result is a widening trench between the parties in the House that encapsulates the growing distance between a Democratic coalition centered on minorities, Millennials and college-educated white voters, most of them clustered in urban areas, and a competing GOP coalition that revolves around evangelical, rural and blue-collar whites who often live beyond it.

Where Democrats won

So far CNN has called 30 Republican-held House seats for the Democrats. Most of these seats are largely white, well-educated and affluent districts that for years represented a pillar of GOP strength in the House. Strikingly they included gains for Democrats not only in the urban centers or suburbs of big metropolitan areas that already bend toward the party from New Jersey, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia and Miami in the East, to Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis in the Midwest, to Denver and Tucson in the West. They also included Democratic pick ups in metro areas including Charleston (SC), Richmond, Dallas, Houston, Des Moines, Kansas City and Oklahoma City, where Republicans had, until now, resisted the general movement of white-collar communities toward the Democrats.

Analysis by CNN producer Aaron Kessler found that 24 of the 30 seats that CNN has called for Democrats, or exactly four-fifths, exceed the national average in education. Twenty-five of the 30 captured seats exceed the national median income. Just six of the 30 districts are more diverse than the national average (a number that largely reflects the concentration of minority voters into urban districts that Democrats already dominate.) In ten of the seats that Democrats captured, the immigrant share of the population exceeded the national average.

Democrats also lead in another seven Republican-held House seats where CNN has not made a final projection. The median income also exceeds the national average in five of those seven seats, as does the average education level in four of them. Four also contain more immigrants than the national average. These provisional Democratic gains include seats in such previous Republican suburban strongholds as Orange County, CA; Salt Lake City; and communities outside Atlanta, as well as Seattle and the northern exurbs of Los Angeles.

Who Trump is losing for the GOP

The engine of this change is the unusual resistance Trump faces among white voters holding at least a four-year college degree, even as he demonstrates a powerful hold on white voters without such advanced education. Exit polls Tuesday night found that just 40% of college-educated white voters said they approved of Trump's job performance, while 59% disapproved. The numbers were essentially inverted among white voters without a college education: 61% approved while just 39% disapproved.

Driven by those divergent reactions to the president, non-college educated whites gave Republicans a resounding 24 percentage point advantage in House races, according to the exit poll. (Support from those voters also keyed the GOP Senate gains Tuesday, particularly in the preponderantly white, heavily blue-collar states where Republican gains were concentrated.) But college-educated voters preferred Democrats by eight points, the poll found. That was a huge shift from both 2014 and 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans won them by margins of at least sixteen percentage points.

The new GOP

This harsh wind blew away much of the white-collar wing of the Republican House caucus (even before considering the potential additional losses from the seats CNN has not called yet). It has tilted the remaining caucus more toward the working-class, small town and rural places where President Trump is strongest.

Before the election, two-thirds of Republicans already represented districts in which the share of residents with a college degree lagged the national average. After Tuesday, that imbalance has broken even further: over three-fourths of the remaining House Republicans represent seats with fewer college graduates than average. (The figures for the post-election distribution of House Republicans is based only on the races CNN has already called.)

Likewise, before the election, nearly three-fifths of Republicans represented districts in which the median income was lower than the national average; now, over two-thirds of House Republicans hold seats where the median income lags the national average.

Even before the election, slightly less than one-in-five Republicans represented districts with a higher share of immigrants than the national average. After Tuesday's results, that figure has collapsed to less than one-in-ten. (Figures on the immigration presence are not available for House districts in Pennsylvania, which were redrawn this year under a ruling by the State Supreme Court.) Before the election, slightly less than one-in-five Republicans represented districts with more minorities than the national average; now that figure has fallen to less than one-in-six. Viewed from the other direction, fully 85 percent of House Republicans now represent districts that are more white than the national average.

Republicans also faced widespread losses in districts that voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump. Fifteen of the Democratic pick-ups that CNN has already called came from the 25 GOP-held seats that backed Clinton; another four of their provisional gains were in Clinton/Republican districts. That means Tuesday could cost Republicans about four-fifths of their members from split ticket districts.

In all of these ways, the election has stripped the GOP caucus of the Members most likely to resist Trump's belligerent tone and increasingly overt appeals to white racial resentment. Those remaining in the GOP caucus are even more concentrated in the parts of the country where his style and message are popular. In a self-reinforcing cycle, they are likely to welcome him continuing to redefine the party around his racially infused economic nationalism in a manner that further weakens the shrinking number of House Republicans who survived in well-educated districts on Tuesday.

The new Democrats

As the GOP caucus tilts further toward non-urban, Trump-friendly districts, the Democratic caucus is growing more racially and economically diverse -- or perhaps bi-modal. It revolves principally around two poles: urban districts with large minority populations, and a growing number of these white-collar suburban districts, some of which are also racially diverse. After the election, three-fifths of Democrats now represent districts where the minority share of the population exceeds the national average, and three-fifths also hold seats with more immigrants than the national average (again excluding Pennsylvania.) Three-fifths hold seats where the median income is greater than the national average, and just under three-fifths hold districts with more college graduates than average. (These figures also include only the districts CNN has already called.)

While Democrats lost one seat in a Minnesota district that backed Trump in 2016 (and could lose a second one in the state that CNN still hasn't called), on Tuesday they also captured 16 seats in districts that Trump won. Among them were two Trump-won districts in Iowa, two in Michigan, two in New Jersey, two in Virginia and three in New York. That will leave them with at least 26 of those districts, depending on the final result in the Minnesota race that has not been called and another Trump-won GOP district that CNN hasn't called in Maine.

Both the affluent, white-collar Democratic seats, and their racially diverse districts, are heavily concentrated in major metropolitan areas. After Tuesday's thorough suburban repudiation, Republicans are increasingly centered in non-urban areas.

The seats Republicans now hold include dozens of rural and small town districts that they won in 2010 from "blue dog" Democrats who had held them for years, even as their voters had grown more reliably Republican in presidential elections. But the blue dogs could not survive the disillusionment in those places with President Barack Obama during his first mid-term election. Now a similar backlash against Trump during his first mid-term has swept away over two dozen suburban Republicans who had likewise been clinging to their seats, even as their voters had drifted more toward Democrats in presidential elections.

This parallel culling underscores the sense that the 2018 election represents the geographic bookend to 2010. The 2010 contest virtually erased the Democratic presence in small town and rural districts. The 2018 election severely diminished the GOP presence in major metropolitan areas from coast to coast. Together, these bookended repudiations of a first-term president have widened the trench between the two parties in the House-leaving them ever more clearly representing what America has been, and what it is becoming.