Connecting state and local government leaders

The Suburbs Are America’s Emerging Political ‘Battleground’


Connecting state and local government leaders

Midterm elections highlighted the nation’s growing urban-rural divide, according to Brookings experts.

The entrenched urban-rural divide has become the dominant phenomenon of modern American—and the midterm elections this week were no exception.

Voters in metropolitan areas went for Democratic candidates over Republican ones 65 percent to 32 percent, while those in small towns and rural America preferred Republicans 56 percent to 42 percent, said William Galston at a Brookings Institution election post-mortem event Thursday.

Suburbs split 49 percent to 49 percent between the parties.

“They are the battleground,” said Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at Brookings. “There are some indications that split tracks across geographical lines.”

Midterm turnout is estimated at 49 percent—or 113 million Americans—the most since 1966 and with the record being 51 percent in 1914. Turnout for the 2014 midterms only reached 36.4 percent.

In Florida, turnout was up 2.2 million voters, and the Republican gubernatorial candidate won by about a percentage point—indicating relatively equal mobilization on both sides, Galston said.

“Partisanship is really driving vote choice these days,” said Vanessa Williamson, a governance studies fellow at Brookings.

Because it’s easier to predict who people will vote for, campaigns are less of a persuasion game than a mobilization one, which makes alleged voter suppression in Georgia more problematic, she added.  

In her victory speech, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi celebrated pre-existing medical conditions, saying “Let’s hear it more for pre-existing medical conditions.” It was a reference to how Democrats during the campaign hammered Republicans for their failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would have wiped out the law’s protections for people with medical conditions.

“Health care was overwhelmingly what candidates were talking about,” said Molly Reynolds, another governance studies fellow at Brookings.

In fact, health care was the subject of 60 percent of House Democratic candidates’ advertisements.

Immigration, on the other hand, was an unimportant part of voting choice for everyone but white voters, and even then there wasn’t much evidence President Trump’s efforts to talk about the immigrant caravan working its way to the U.S. border from Mexico had much effect, Reynolds said.

A record number of women ran for office in 2018, most Democrats, and a substantial gender gap was evident even among white voters with women favoring Democratic candidates more heavily.

The results likely explain the “suburban swing” seen across the country, said Elaine Kamarck, founding director of the Center for Effective Public Management at Brookings.

White women with college degrees preferred Democratic candidates compared to white men by 24 points.

Trump does not appear to have gained ground in any of the states Hillary Clinton won in 2016, but Democratic candidate Richard Cordray losing the Ohio gubernatorial race by 5 percent is troubling for Democrats, Galston said. The Midwest is winnable for that party with the right message, he added.

“The Midwest is the cake. Florida is the frosting,” Galston said. “Georgia is a dream.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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