What I said about the Midwest ...

November 14, 2016

I was hardly a bold voice, brazenly declaring that Donald Trump would undoubtedly be the victor this year. But I did predict that he would win, and the Electoral College map looks very much as I predicted. See this story for more details. 

 

So I do take some satisfaction in the 2016 election, as it seems to vindicate much of my research agenda. In Right-Wing Critics, I said that the conservative movement was losing its ability to police the political right, and we would see new right-wing movements emerge -- though I admittedly did not foresee someone like Trump pushing this particular brand of right-wing populism.

 

And in White Voters in 21st Century America (which I wish Routledge would release in a cheaper paperback edition), I suggested that the future of American politics may hold higher levels of racial polarization and a growth in Republican support in traditionally-Democratic Midwestern states. This is why I argued demographic change does not necessarily spell immediate electoral doom for the GOP. Specifically, I said:

 

It could be the case that the Democratic Party’s loss of support among whites has reached a floor, and may even increase in the years ahead, but the Republican Party will be unable to break new ground among non-whites. In this scenario, the Republican Party continues its slide toward permanent minority status as changing demographics tip an increasing number of states into the solid Blue State category. While the GOP has a shot at securing the presidency one or two more times, once Texas tips into the permanent Democratic majority category, the Republican Party will be effectively locked out of the White House forever. While political progressives may welcome such a scenario, the permanent, total marginalization of one party in a two-party system raises questions of the legitimacy of American democracy – even if the failed party can blame no one but its own leadership.

 

On the other hand, the Democratic Party’s declining support among whites may have just begun, and white Americans may become as overwhelmingly loyal to the Republican Party as African Americans are to the Democratic Party. A complete collapse of white support for the party would be devastating for the Democrats, despite the demographic winds at its back. A big increase in support for Republicans from whites nationwide would bring almost the entire Midwest into the Red State camp, which would bring in enough electoral votes to offset losses in the Southwest.

 

We seem to be seeing something like that, though the change in white voter behavior between 2012 and 2016 was not all that dramatic. It is true that, nationwide, Trump did not perform any better than Romney among whites. But he moved the needle enough in the states where he needed it to move. And the places where Trump's white support stayed the same or even went down compared to Romney were places where it did not matter very much. 

 

There are of course other parts of the story beyond racial polarization: a failure of the Clinton camp to energize its base, scandals, etc. But when it comes to the big picture stuff, I’m feeling pretty good right now.

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