The real lesson from elections in Kentucky and Louisiana
Democrats cannot rely on turnout alone to win them elections
David Wasserman, the House editor for The Cook Political Report, has an article out for NBC News today that argues that Democratic gains in the suburbs don’t necessarily translate to improved electoral college prospects in 2020. College-educated whites, he argues, disproportionately live in safe states and thus aren’t likely to decide the election. He presents this interesting graph as evidence:
There are a few reasons why I think this is misguided. The most glaring issue is in counting raw votes. Although there may not be as many educated whites in Wisconsin as there are in Colorado, there still are some—27% of the state, by his reckoning—and Hillary Clinton’s razor-thin loss there means that if just 2 percent of them switch from voting for Donald Trump in 2016 to a Democrat in 2020 the state will probably flip from red to blue, all else being equal (which of course it won’t be). While swings in the suburbs are indeed bigger in blue states, even small shifts could decide the election.
Second, Wasserman doesn’t touch at all on Democratic strength among whites without college degrees, who were also plenty likely to swing from R to D in the 2018 mid-terms. In fact, it’s the rural, Obama-to-Trump areas that Wasserman says Democrats need to win that were the most “blueing” from 2016 to 2018, according to an analysis I performed for The Economist last November:
Third, I also say to Wasserman what I said to everyone writing about the LA and KY elections: don’t over-learn lessons from hyper-local elections and try to apply them to federal contests. Donald Trump is no Matt Bevin (the very unpopular Republican governor of Kentucky ousted in this month’s contest). The Democratic nominee for president will be no John Bel Edwards (the conservative Democratic governor of Louisiana). Caution is warranted.
Finally, and most importantly, I think Wasserman is talking around the real lesson from these contests: Turnout won’t save Democrats. This is likely a familiar refrain for you subscribers. Wasserman shows that voter turnout increased in both “red” and “blue” areas in KY and LA from 2015 to 2019; by 38% in the former and 42% in the latter.
Even with such favorable turnout numbers, Edwards performed worse than he did in 2015. It’s clear that he won re-election because a whole bunch of Republicans voted for him.
In 2020, Democrats will probably have to do the tough job of winning over Trump voters if they are to win the White House. Last week I wrote a bit about how they might go about doing that.
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