Mapping how wealthier suburban voters helped deliver the House to Democrats

The Washington Post has a story with great maps that illustrate how suburbanites helped swing the 2018 House elections toward Democrats:

In Tuesday’s election, House districts on the outskirts of major American cities were the site of electoral shifts that propelled Democrats to power.

Wealthy and middle class voters delivered the suburban votes for enough Democratic pickups to secure a majority. In several cases, the battleground districts were wealthy and highly educated places that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, exposing the vulnerability of those Republican lawmakers.

The addition of quality mapping data in recent years to stories about election results is great. It helps highlight the clear patterns from recent elections regarding where the two parties have stronger bases, Democrats in cities and close suburbs and Republicans in rural areas and further suburbs.

Death knell for Republicans in Illinois’s 6th congressional district?

Democrat Sean Casten unseated Republican incumbent Peter Roskam in a House race in the 6th Congressional District in Illinois. Does this signal the end of Republican dominance in this suburban district? Some points to consider:

  1. This has been a Republican district since the early 1970s. Before that, the District was represented by a Democrat since the late 1920s and dominated by Republicans between the Civil War and 1911. Long-time representative Henry Hyde passing the seat to Peter Roskam may be the recent history but the district has more variation over the years.
  2. The demographics of these suburban areas has changed quite a bit. Like many American suburbs, the Chicago suburbs have become increasingly non-white and more diverse in terms of social class. The area covered by the district today is not the same white, middle-class swath that it may have once appeared to be.
  3. Redistricting and changing boundaries has happened with the 6th in the past and could happen again in the future. Read more about Illinois redistricting efforts in the 1970s and early 2000s. Some background on this particular district:

Roskam replaced conservative icon U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde in Congress, but much of his old territory in eastern DuPage County is now represented by U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley of Chicago and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg, both Democrats.

4. The patterns of voting in the Chicago area suburbs mirror larger trends about suburban voters. The 6th district as well as several other House districts are comprised of the middle ground between Democratic voters in the big city and close suburbs and Republican voters in more rural areas and outer suburbs. These are the battleground areas and this will likely continue in future election cycles.

All this said, there are no guarantees in this district. Multiple factors could sway voters in this district in the near and far future including changes in what the national parties stand for (and what presidential candidates are leading the way), increasing diversity in the suburbs, possible redistricting, and particular concerns and issues that may resonate voters in the middle suburbs. As the suburbs continue to be important areas for both parties to try to pick up seats, expect this district to continue to be contested for at least a few elections to come.

Suburban voters, voting and acting out of fear

The much-discussed suburban voter of this election cycle may have multiple motivations for voting. One factor that appears present now is fear. Are our lives at risk? Will the country will be ruined if the other party is in control?

A little thought experiment: does this easily play into suburban anxieties and fears? Here are some fears scholars have suggested suburbanites face on a regular basis:

1. Fear of the “other,” usually referring to people of non-white races and ethnicities. This manifests itself in multiple ways including exclusionary zoning and gated communities.

2. Fear of losing a middle-class or upper middle-class status. This leads to trying to gather resources for just their family or community.

3. Fear that either their children are not going to succeed or that they are at risk. After all, the suburbs are supposed to be a safe place for which to launch them to excellence.

4. This dates back more to the early decades of postwar suburbia but a fear of losing their individualism and being pushed into conformity to suburban norms.

There are counterarguments to each of these as well as a general claim that suburbanites move to the suburbs because they wanted to, not because they were all fearful.

But, if there are indeed numerous fears in suburbia, does marketing politicians and policies on the basis of fear an even more effective tactic for suburban voters?

Contested House races in educated suburban districts

The road to political success for the national parties continues to run through middle suburbs:

On one side of that divide is growing Democratic strength in white-collar suburbs recoiling from Trump; on the other is continued Republican dominance in rural places and blue-collar communities that flocked to Trump in 2016 and haven’t wavered much since. These divergent forces explain why Democratic opportunities are expanding in well-educated suburban districts around major metropolitan areas all over the country while the party is still facing an uphill climb in almost all the House seats outside metropolitan areas that it hoped to contest this year.

The Washington race between first-time Democratic candidate Kim Schrier, a pediatrician, and Republican Dino Rossi, a three-time GOP nominee for statewide office, is one of several contests that capture both of those dynamics inside the same district. Democrats this year are mounting serious challenges for Republican-held seats that sprawl from suburban into rural areas around Richmond, Virginia; Lexington, Kentucky; Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina; Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, Iowa; Topeka, Kansas; Columbus, Ohio; Springfield, Illinois; and parts of upstate New York, among other places.

Republicans have controlled each of these districts for years, typically posting comfortable margins in both their rural and suburban areas. But the results in them this fall will pressure-test the electoral trade that Trump is imposing on his party: growing strength in small-town and rural communities offset by growing skepticism and resistance in many white-collar suburbs, particularly among women. The intensely divisive confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh appears poised to magnify the trends on both sides of that line.

The main contours of the political battle continues to hold: Democrats get votes from big cities and close suburbs, Republicans get votes from rural areas and exurbs, and the two parties fight over the middle suburbs characterized by relatively educated and wealthy residents with some pockets of poorer residents as well as various levels of racial and ethnic diversity. This was the pattern in 2016 (see earlier posts about Clinton winning in the Chicago suburbs, Trump losing ground in suburbs, and changes in suburban voting patterns) and it appears to be true in the 2018 elections (see recent posts here and here).

Suburban voters could give Democrats House majority

The hopes the Democrats have to recapture the House depend on suburban voters:

In the last two weeks, Democrats scored an upset in southwest Pennsylvania and dominated the voting in the Republican suburbs outside Chicago. President Donald Trump, who never won over suburbia, continues to get poor marks from the educated, upper income Americans who often call it home. After Democratic victories in state legislative contests in Virginia and special elections across the country — even a stunning Senate election in Republican-dominated Alabama — Republicans have plenty of reason to worry that commuter country may be their undoing in the fight for control of the House in November’s midterm elections…

Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to take the majority — a task made particularly challenging by the way House districts currently are drawn to favor Republicans. Still, any House majority is built on suburban success.

Republicans control most rural and small-town districts, where Trump finds his strongest political support. Democrats dominate districts anchored in big cities, where Trump opposition is fiercest. The party in charge will be the one that wins the battle in between, where the electorate often is the sort of ideological and demographic mix that defines a two-party battleground…

Democrats’ target list starts with nearly two dozen Republican-held seats where Hillary Clinton bested Trump in 2016. The list is heavy on seats in California and the northeast — suburbs outside Philadelphia and New York — corners of Democratic-leaning states where Trump didn’t win over wealthier, moderate Republicans. Now the GOP fears that those weaknesses are spreading further from big-city centers and also into suburban districts around mid-size and smaller metropolitan areas.

While the narrative in this election cycle will certainly involve Trump, there is more going on with suburban voters. The voters in many suburbs can be persuaded by a different party every election cycle. This is partly due to the changing nature of suburbs where there are now more diverse populations and changing economic conditions. The suburbs have many people who want to protect their own interests as well as ensure a good future for their children. Still, suburbanites closer to cities will tend to vote Democrat and those further out will tend to vote Republican.

Three questions for political leaders as suburbs offer key to 2018 elections

The suburbs may continue in 2018 to be the true political battlegrounds in the United States:

The mounting backlash to President Trump that is threatening his party’s control of Congress is no longer confined just to swing districts on either coast. Officials in both parties believe that Republican control of the House is now in grave jeopardy because a group of districts that are historically Republican or had been trending that way before the 2016 election are slipping away…

From Texas to Illinois, Kansas to Kentucky, there are Republican-held seats filled with college-educated, affluent voters who appear to be abandoning their usually conservative leanings and newly invigorated Democrats, some of them nonwhite, who are eager to use the midterms to take out their anger on Mr. Trump.

“If you look at the patterns of where gains are being made and who is creating the foundation for those gains, it’s the same: An energized Democratic base is linking arms with disaffected suburban voters,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, who as a member of Congress in 2006 helped Democrats win back the House. “The president’s conduct has basically given voters this permission slip to go against the Republicans.”…

The suburban revolt, which began in a handful of little-noticed special elections and then exploded last month in governor’s and state House races in Virginia, was on display again on Tuesday in Alabama, where Doug Jones, a Democrat, claimed a stunning Senate win thanks to African-Americans and upscale whites.

This is not a new thing to watch: the suburbs have contained the real swing voters for at least the last few election cycles. These voters in middle suburbs, between inner-ring suburbs and the exurbs, can be swayed by either party depending on the situation.

A few thoughts about the upcoming 2018 elections:

  1. While this almost certainly means a lot of money will be spent in these districts, it will be interesting to watch how many political leaders visit such locations. For example, if you are a Democratic leader trying to woo voters in DuPage County (who voted pretty strongly for Hilary Clinton in what was considered a solidly Republican county), will you actually visit places like Villa Park and Carol Stream or will you stick to Chicago and hope you get enough attention in the big city?
  2. In wooing suburban voters, will sprawl be an issue on the table? Many metropolitan areas have large regional problems including inequality across communities (the residential and class segregation of big cities has been replicated to some degree in suburban areas) and congestion. Will Democrats push for more metropolitan initiatives and reducing the growth further out from the city or is this a losing pitch in a country where many Americans still seem to like the idea of a suburban home?
  3. How will Democrats approach wealthier suburban voters in blue states that have significant state issues? I’m thinking of places like Connecticut, New Jersey, and Illinois that have massive budget issues. What can Democrats offer on a national platform that would suburban voters could find attractive for helping their state? Or how would suburban candidates address affordable housing, another major issue in many regions, and who exactly should help or sacrifice to help such housing be built?