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Tilting at Windmills

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September 14, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BLUE BURBS....E.J. Dionne writes about electoral demographics:

Outside the Deep South, Democrats are on the verge of becoming the dominant party in the suburbs and are pushing into the exurbs....Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who headed the Democrats' 2006 effort in the House elections, regularly reminds his colleagues that 16 of the 31 Democratic pickups were in suburban or exurban areas. He has been talking about a new "suburban populism" or "metropolitan populism" that he characterizes as "a revolt of the center." The suburbs are changing demographically as more nonwhites move in, and many suburban voters are turned off by the ideological politics of the right, particularly the Christian right.

....Mark Warner, who combines popularity in the suburbs with strength in rural areas that's unusual for a Democrat, clearly had his own version of Emanuel's "revolt of the center" in mind when he announced his candidacy in a Web broadcast yesterday. He spoke of voters who were "sick to death of the bickering" in Washington and promised a "practical problem-solving approach" and "a bipartisan approach of change."

Safe, soothing and very suburban: These could be the characteristics of the new American majority. For now, Democrats have the better understanding of its rhythms.

Cities are liberal, rural areas are conservative, and suburbs are the battleground. That's been true for a long time, and John Judis and Ruy Teixeira predicted a Democratic resurgence in the burbs back in 2002. Terrorism and 9/11 intervened temporarily to turn back the tide, but demographics can't be put on hold forever. The suburbs are turning blue. More here.

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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I live in the VA suburbs Dionne is talking about. When I moved to the exurbs back in 2001, it was not unusual for me to hear a neighbor say, "But you can't be a Democrat! You attend PTA!" Or "You're a Democrat? But you go to church!"

And it's not only about demographics, it's about a group of Democrats who never gave up. We knocked on doors, we talked with our neighbors, we found candidates (who usually lost) and we funded them. We gave visibility in our churches, our PTA's and our home owner association meetings. We became the faces of our party in a way that DC (even as close as it is) cannot be.

Grassroots activisim works.

Posted by: geml on September 14, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

"But you can't be a Democrat! You attend PTA!" Or "You're a Democrat? But you go to church!"

Here in NJ (both suburban and urban areas) it's the opposite. Dems and Reps are equally pedestrian. Now I see why people in the rural areas think Dems are the antichrist.

Posted by: Swan on September 14, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

All your suburbs are belong to us!

Posted by: R.L. on September 14, 2007 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

I've often said that the ironic and unintended product of the GOP's cynical Southern Strategy will be a Southern Party, incapable of winning national elections.

Oddly, the very distraction and distortion of the 9/11 effect will only more quickly entrench this marginalization of the GOP. Under the influence of that effect, the GOP felt free to show its true colors, define itself only more rigidly according to radical ideology, and wreak the true consequences of that pernicious set of "principles". Voters will find the object lesson unforgettable.

Had 9/11 not occurred, and the GOP had not been able to exploit it for all it's worth, the American public might have toyed with Conservatism for decades more, as a plausible idea which had never been fully explored. But, today, they have seen to the end of that dark cave, and know it's not fit for human habitation.

I think that this is how progress happens.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 14, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

The Repubs are well on the way to becoming a regional party. The south has only 30% of the U.S. population, but it has 40% of the GOP's voters. If not for that, clowns like George Allen and Fred Thompson would never be taken seriously as potential presidents.

Posted by: penalcolony on September 14, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Cities are liberal, rural areas are conservative, and suburbs are the battleground. That's been true for a long time, and John Judis and Ruy Teixeira predicted a Democratic resurgence in the burbs back in 2002.

Kevin, your description of cities, rural areas, and suburbs has been true ever since the 70's and the takeover of the Democratic party by hippies and lefties. And in almost every one of those elections Republicans and conservatives have pummeled Democrats. The only hope you have to hang on to is the last election.
But according to the Wall Street Journal at online.wsj.com/article/SB118974187531227505.html, "With approval of Congress stuck at 23%, Democrats see their ratings slip." So it looks more and more like the last election is nothing more than a outlier and should be thrown out. My own prediction is that with a 23% approval rating, Congressional Democrats will see a revolt of the center and moderates in response to the do-nothing Democratic Congress with conservatives regaining control of both houses of Congress in the next elections.

Posted by: Al on September 14, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

I can't say that this comports with what I know about the metro area I live in. When you look at precinct maps of Minneapolis-St. Paul after state or national elections it looks like a big red doughnut. Solid blue in the city limits. Big red suburbs and exurbs. And a hodgepodge of red and blue rural areas.

All of Minnesota's GOP House delegation: Jim Ramstad, John Kline, and Michelle Bachmann, comes from suburban districts. The overwhelming majority of Sen. Norm Coleman's base is in the suburbs. In 2002, he won 2 out of 235 urban precincts, split the rural vote, and ran away with the suburban vote. At the rate things are going rural areas are trending blue a lot faster than suburban ones.

Posted by: Joe Bob on September 14, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Urban and suburban areas want services. Rural voters want handouts (subsidies) but not services. Republicans are anti-government and don't believe in providing services. As areas grow more urban, they need more services and Republicans lose out.

Posted by: bakho on September 14, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans, on the other hand, are more popular in rural communities where everyone swears they don't watch the Plaboy Channel to each other's faces, but all watch it behind each other's backs.

Posted by: Swan on September 14, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Here in Southern (rural and suburban) Illinois, the demographics are heavily Democratic. Many offices go to Democrats in uncontested elections and there hasn't been a serious challenge to our Congressmen in over twenty years.

That despite a long record of being dismissed as unimportant by the state politicians up North and generally forgotten when it comes to government largesse.

One thing, though. Our Democrats are pretty conservative, on domestic as well as foreign issues. Just because the Democratic Party can pick up seats outside of cities does not automatically mean those voters agree with the urban-oriented leadership.

Posted by: Trashhauler on September 14, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Are they becoming Democrats, or anti-Republicans?

I come from a long line of Republicans, but I wouldn't hesitate to vote against the new Republican Party, which is fiscally destructive (Gee, dollar falling and $59 trillion in liabilities. Need more Reagan snake oil and free trade.) and a War party coalition of neoconservatives (liberal Zionist Jews) and loony-tunes Bible-thumping Evangelical Zionists and to boot hates our freedoms.

Two evils incarnate. Democratic party lesser of the two.

Posted by: Luther on September 14, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

The Democrats won in 2006 by running blue dogs and moderates in critical districts.

Warner, at least as recently as last year, was about as "progressive" as Lieberman. Is this what you really want?

Posted by: harry on September 14, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Al: A quick google for congressional approval ratings differentiated along party lines yielded the following(as of mid-July, 2007): "Harris, for example, found Democrats in Congress at 31% positive, 64% negative, while Republicans were at 21% positive and 76% negative. They found overall approval of Congress at 24% positive and 72% negative.)" So in other words, while overall approval in down (and overall disapproval is up), it looks like most of us still see that, bad as the Democrats are, we recognize that the remaining Republicans are even worse. As in all things, the Republicans continue to drag the rest of us down. Asshat.

Posted by: Ex-Pat on September 14, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

"harry": The Democrats won in 2006 by running blue dogs and moderates in critical districts.

Yes, that is a popular winger talking point, isn't it? Unfortunately for you, it's only partly true.

and again: Warner, at least as recently as last year, was about as "progressive" as Lieberman. Is this what you really want?

You said the same thing last night under a different handle, didn't you? I believe the general response was that if you think we're not going to even bother to try to elect Democrats because we might get another Joe Lieberman (as if such a formula were replicable), you are really desperate for a position.

Posted by: shortstop on September 14, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Here in Southern (rural and suburban) Illinois, the demographics are heavily Democratic. Many offices go to Democrats in uncontested elections and there hasn't been a serious challenge to our Congressmen in over twenty years.

Nonsense. Jerry Costello hasn't even been in office 20 years, and he's the only Democratic Congressman down there.

Posted by: shortstop on September 14, 2007 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

On most issues, most Americans agree with most Democrats.

The trouble is, Republicans have become very good at creating and sustaining wedge issues like abortion or gun control, which are vehicles for imagery that casts Democrats as "not like us" to millions of swing voters. It's an 'us vs. them' approach to elections AND governing that was never very American. And it isn't what most Americans want.

Yet 9-11 was played by Republicans in precisely that way (look at the creation of DHS), as was the Iraq war. The social and tax cut issues could have kept 'em going awhile -- but not after having controlled the entire government, and come up with... the Bush record.

That is what is hurting their chances -- they've made the bed they lie in.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 14, 2007 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Luther, posting upthread, is right. Suburban voters are trending away from Republicans more than they are toward Democrats.

The trend isn't going to look the same everywhere, because many people vote based on local and state issues that don't track national politics. A Republican governor, doing well in a state with a strong economy is going to do just fine in the suburbs. But candidates for national office are saddled with the GOP's identification with the unpopular Bush.

That's actually worse than it sounds, because while the Democrats have had the ability to look at the changing electorate and plan for it, Republicans are still looking back over their shoulders worrying about how far away to get from the White House. The President's people aren't worried about attracting new supporters, only in holding on to the ones they've got. It would be easier for GOP candidates down the ballot to build strength in the suburbs if they had a record of and reputation for disliking the President. But none of them do, and even the ones who might have climbed aboard the Bush bandwagon back when he was popular and haven't been able to jump off.

In the short term it isn't going to matter whether suburban voters really like Democrats or if they just give Democratic candidates the benefit of the doubt, just to express disapproval of George Bush's Republicans. The long term may be another story, but through 2010 it isn't very likely that any Democrat or all of them put together can do more to make themselves disliked in the suburbs than Bush is now.

Posted by: Zathras on September 14, 2007 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

The real issue is the Republican stranglehold on the media. Until the Democrats address that, they will keep losing, or barely squeak by.

Posted by: Jenna's Bush on September 14, 2007 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

That's nice, but Rahm has been pushing reddish Democrats lately, too establishment/AIPAC sucking ... I hope they can find more genuinely progressive folks soon.

Posted by: Neil B. on September 14, 2007 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

That's nice, but Rahm has been pushing reddish Democrats lately

Lately?!

Rahm 'twas ever thus.

Posted by: shortstop on September 14, 2007 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

Tammy Duckworth is not a liberal Democrat. This is the type of candidate the pro-W. Bush war Democrats want to fool liberals into voting for.

Posted by: Brojo on September 14, 2007 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

"Nonsense. Jerry Costello hasn't even been in office 20 years, and he's the only Democratic Congressman down there."
_________________________

I was referring to local offices, as well. As far as Congressmen go, Costello took over in '88 from Mel Price who died in office. I had and have no complaints about either, but we do tend to be taken for granted down here.

Posted by: Trashhauler on September 14, 2007 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

First time I've heard the term "inner West"; usually called the "Mountain West", isn't it?

Or does that combine Mountain West and South-West?

Posted by: MikeM on September 15, 2007 at 1:15 AM | PERMALINK

dionne does not take his thesis to its natural conclcusion. The U.S. will soon be a one party state. What will the U.S. be like when the Democratic Party is the only political party?

Posted by: superdestroyer on September 15, 2007 at 7:41 AM | PERMALINK

The notion of playing political factions off one another with the clever use of wedge issues & personal attacks is giving way to more moderate candidates advocating dialogue to resolve differences.

If Mark Warner's "Virginia Approach" ever catches on the GOP that Rove, Cheney, Bush & Norquist have built is doomed to history's dustbin.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on September 15, 2007 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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