Monday, November 05, 2018

U.S. Midterms

If entirely conventional benchmarks were what mattered in the U.S. elections on November 6 the current strength of the economy - essentially the pinnacle of the growth cycle that started with Barack Obama's stimulus bill in 2009 - then the Republicans ought to be doing extremely well. In 1998 in the midst of another period of strong economic growth - the roaring nineties as Joseph Stiglitz dubbed them - the Democrats made gains in the House of Representatives despite the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. This happened although off year elections following a presidential re-election are generally likely to damage the incumbent party. Credit may be due Obama for today's economic circumstances, but it is the current incumbent who gets credit or blame for the economy in U.S. politics.

However, Trump has managed to alienate large swathes of the U.S. as he essentially doubles down on the extreme white racism and misogyny that has been hallmark of his administration. It is a source of strength in rural and small town America but a source of weakness in the parts of the U.S. that are urban and diverse.

My overall impression is that this racial/ misogynistic extremism will lead to large Republican losses in urban and suburban areas, while Republicans will be either as strong as before or stronger in more rural communities. We saw this a year ago in the statewide election in Virginia where the Democrats won the Governorship by an unexpectedly large margin - the polls were wrong then,  underestimating the Democrat margin. The Democrats made huge gains in the state legislature almost gaining control. However, when I looked closely at the results I saw that the Republicans had held their own in rural areas. This year the Republicans may well gain a few rural seats in the House of Representatives at the Democrats expense, but that will be more than offset by gains in suburban areas.

In the Senate just one third of the institution is being elected, and strong rural support for Trump in places like North Dakota may keep the Senate under Republican control. We won't know what will happen until after the polls close.

The most interesting and significant Senate race is the one in Texas where the highly successful run by Democrat Beto O'Rourke may fall short in its effort to oust the execrable Republican Ted Cruz. However, it matters in the long term. That is because Texas is already similar to California in having a population composed of a majority of minorities. According to 2016 population estimates 44% of the Texas population is white. Republican control of its politics rests on lower turnout among the 37% of the population that is Hispanic. Population trends in California, now a reliably blue state, preceded Texas. In California the white population is 39%, while black, Asian and Hispanic populations total 59% of the population. Texas is headed this way and a key political indicator was the shift in support for the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton - she shrunk the size of the Democratic loss from 16% for Obama in 2012 to 9% in 2016. O'Rourke has raised a lot of money and is spending on turning out Latinos. There are similar population trends in Arizona and Nevada, two states that may switch from Republican to Democratic Senators this year.

Trump's racism and misogyny is the very opposite of what would serve Republicans in the long-term. According to Pew research there is a large gender gap in party identification with younger women supporting the Democrats by a huge margin. The racial and ethnic shifts in the composition of the American population along with large shifts in party identification and ideology, particularly among younger women, will register in Tuesday's results but the greatest impact of these trends will be felt in the years to come.