THE DEMOCRATIC “BASE” IS NOW IN THE SUBURBS, NOT THE CITIES. HERE’s WHY.

patty schlachter

^ Wisconsin State Senator Patty Schlachter : ten point victor, flipping a legislative seat in what had been extremely “red” territory far from any Democratic city

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A major shift has taken place in the Democratic party’s locus of force. For at least 150 years, since the Civil War, big cites were the Democratic party’s foundation (also the South, a phenomenon that ended about 20 years ago.) Today, however, cities no longer control Democratic energy as they once did. It’s the suburbs’ turn, and a very specific kind of suburb at that. It’s in the suburbs that were until quite recently Republican that one finds the Democratic fires burning hottest.

Why is this so ? Let me explain.

The new Democrats — the “woke” constituency — is a fairly well to do, almost exclusively Caucasian constituency. Lunch bucket issues aren’t its thing. Those are city matters; and city voters have, mostly, been Democrats for 50 to 150 years. The longer a city has been Democratic, the less likely its Democratic voters are to be ‘woke.” To them, the Democratic party is the establishment, personal and ancestral, often paychecked. The Democratic primary works for these voters. In it they elect those who govern cities and represent cities in Congress.  Because the Democratic primary is where every elected office is decided, anyone who cares to pursue a political career or play a part in politics votes in that primary, no matter what his or her ideology might be. “Resist” is only one among many such Democratic options.

It was different for suburban voters. When voters first started moving to suburbs, after World War II, most of them became Republicans, because it was then assumed that the Republican party would hold the line on taxes, which was the primary issue for people now earning more and having larger savings accounts. Recently, however, the Republican party has become known for religious zealotry, anti immigrant bias, and attacks upon the social safety net. As older suburban voters enjoy social security and medicare, and as few suburban voters are wedded to religion or wish to interfere with women deciding what to do about a pregnancy — the suburbs are built upon everyone minding his or her own business, not upon community solidarity, which is the way of cities — the current Republican agenda violates the live and let live, entitlement lives that most suburbanites like.

Many such suburban voters have fled the Republican party, or refused it, and have turning instead to the Democrats. They have the zeal of converts. Like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, they have seen the light and ever since, have zealously gathered or joined a following.

To the suburban converts one adds the world of academia, which, like the suburbs,was almost exclusively Republican right up to the late 1960s. Opposition to the Viet Nam war converted them, too, as it did NOT change the voting allegiance of city voters, many of whom fought in the war, or had family in combat. It is no accident that, in Massachusetts, the most idealistic Democrats are concentrated, not in Boston — maybe the nation’s archetypal Democratic city — but in academia and the suburbs surrounding the academy : Cambridge, Lexington, Arlington, Medford, Somerville, Watertown, Belmont, Carlisle. Lincoln, Concord, Wayland, Melrose, Salem (and even Winchester, not so long ago a moderate Republican heartland): all of which have become the local Democratic party’s “base.”

All of the above is why we have recently seen Democratic candidates do so well in very Republican states — the more Republican the state, the better the Democratic candidates have done; and the more “resist” and suburban those Democrats, the better still. Perhaps the most extreme instance of this voter movement was the 10-point victory won by Democrat Patty Schlachter in a exurban Wisconsin State Senate seat that had been Republican for decades. A similar shift has moved four legislative seats from Republican to Democrat in Oklahoma, which had, during the past three decades,  become maybe the “reddest” state in the nation.

In Alabama’s US Senate race, though won by a centrist Democrat, the greatest voting shift occurred in suburban counties. The same proved true in last week’s 18th Pennsylvania Congress District: although the very centrist Democrat, Conor Lamb, did much better than recent Democrats in some fairly rural parts of his electorate, his biggest plus came in suburban Pittsburgh.

But yesterday, in the Illinois primary, one saw something quite different. Suburban, “resist” Democrats challenged not in a two party election but in the Democratic primary, which meant taking on Democratic opponents who were not convers but established; and in all three emblem cases, the established, non-convert, non-“resist” candidate won : incumbent, Chicago-based Congressman Dan Lipinski over suburban challenger Marie Newman (Illinois CD 3); Seth Casten, a mainstream executive, over five suburban women rivals, one of whom was backed by EMILY’s list; and in the Governor race, established Jay Pritzker over “resist” favorite Chris Kennedy and an equally left State Senator, Dan Biss. (In Chicago, Biss’s support came almost all from the high income “north Side,” Pritzker’s vote from everywhere else.) Converts are far, far less numerous in Cities like Chicago then are non-ideological, centrist Democrats.

As I see it, the “resistance”‘s converts number about the same in every state and city, but their share of the Democratic vote varies as I have said above : the “redder” the District, the more influential the “resist” vote. My axiom may prove too much, but electeds who stand in the way of convert voters better heed well the arrival of a generation of Saint Paul-style apostles.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

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