American Politics 2040

Things change. The trajectory of things change. Nothing is set in stone that has not happened yet. This does not mean that you can’t take an honest look at your current trajectory and figure out where you are going. America could use that right now, but it’s leadership is simply unwilling or incapable of doing so. After the 2016 election, we need to really consider where it is we’re headed.

The Republican Party of Reagan and Nixon is changing, morphing before our eyes. They will become a more hard-line nationalist party, one that identifies heavily as white and traditional. They are still for low taxes and de-regulation, but are a more populist party that can support government “welfare” for those who they deem as “American.” They want to back away from being the world’s active superpower, particularly on matters of climate change and trade policy, and instead pursue a more isolationist world view on those matters. They are certainly not George W. Bush in his view of American leadership, instead agreeing more with Vladimir Putin’s regionalized powers view of the world. They reject the 20th Century, post World War II “western order” with our traditional allies in Western Europe, in part because they reject the globalist view of those countries. They’ll spend big on defense, but not to play “global policeman.” The Republican Party is becoming an “America First,” hard borders and isolationist economics party, one that embraces white identity and traditional values, is pro-military spending, dismantles collective safety nets in favor of arbitrary ones, and who opposes taxes and regulations to protect the public.

Democrats are on a trajectory that is quite different. The Democrats are becoming a fully globalist party. Global trade, collective action with our Western allies on global issues, a pluralistic identity, a more open immigration policy, and a very science driven policy process are some of the hallmarks of the Democratic future. Democrats are embracing more socialistic concepts and collective actions and solutions. Democrats embrace a more active global voice, a softer “national identity,” particularly on matters of race and language, and more integration with the world.

Over the next twenty years or so, the two parties will battle over this “America First,” traditional-nationalist view of the world, versus a more globalist, collective, Civil Rights driven world view. Election cycles will be volatile, and leadership will change more often. Primaries will push both parties more clearly into their corners. The current divisions in this country will be more stark. The need for money in our campaigns, along with gerrymandering and voter sorting, will produce more “pure” parties in terms of their differences and positions.

About twenty years from now, half of America will live in eight states. The most important two data points in determining if a state, district, or county is red or blue will be:

  • The percentage of non-white voters. This is fairly simple, straight forward, and easy to understand. If there are a large percentage of African-Americans, or certain groups of Latinos or Asians, you can expect Democrats to do well. If not, expect it to be red. The exception comes out of the second point-
  • The existence of major metropolitan markets that are “winning” in the global economy. If you have a New York or San Francisco, you’re blue. If you have a failing regional urban market or ones that are too small, you’re red. This is they key delineation point among white people. White people in large, successful urban places like Philadelphia or Washington are usually Democrats. White people in white collar suburbs near those kind of markets are swing voters who will lean left. White voters everywhere else are trending the other way. The higher education and earning white people will live in the bigger, successful job markets, and trend Democratic.
  • What does this mean in the long haul? By 2040, I have these states as blue:
    • New York
      New Jersey
      Massachusetts
      Delaware
      Maryland
      DC
      Virginia
      Georgia
      Illinois
      Texas
      New Mexico
      California
      Hawaii

    If you’re trying to think out loud on how many electoral votes that is, it should be about 220. Assuming Democrats win all of the Senate seats in these states, it’s 24 (If DC isn’t a state). Interestingly, these states should have just under 200 House seats, under my math, meaning the “friendliest” branch of the government for Democrats to win elections might be the House.

    What other states could be in play? Well, you’re looking for one of two things- major metropolitan areas that are attracting new economy jobs, and non-white voters. You need some sort of coalition between non-white voters and white voters who are “winning” in the 21st Century economy. What states have this?

    • North Carolina- I almost put this state with the group of blue states, because of the “Research Triangle” and Charlotte areas, but there are large rural swaths in this state that can and will probably keep it competitive. This will become to Democrats what Pennsylvania has been, a “must have,” in order to win.
    • Florida- I’m not overly bullish on Florida’s long term prospects for Democrats, in part because the Latino population is simply less liberal leaning than those in the West- in part because they come from different places and are less connected to the immigration issue. Florida will remain a competitive state though, because it is diverse, and has the Miami and Tampa areas that fit the bill as metropolitan areas.
    • Pennsylvania- Pennsylvania will not be the Democratic lock for national candidates that it was from 1988 through 2012, but it’s not going the wrong way completely anytime soon. Why? Philadelphia is a giant market, and to a lesser extent the Allegheny County (Pittsburgh area) will remain relevant. The state won’t remain cleanly “blue” though because Northeast PA is increasingly behaving like Central and Northwest PA already were. Democrats need to dig into the Lehigh Valley and Pocono regions in order to win statewide contests in the future. The polar opposition behavior of the rest of the state will make those areas the key.
    • Minnesota- In 2016, one of the under-reported stories of the election was how Minneapolis-St. Paul and their suburbs had to bail Democrats out. That is looking like the new norm. With some of the “generation Mondale” Democrats leaving the more rural Congressional seats, Democrats are at risk of atrophying further in those parts of the state. The “Twin Cities” will increasingly be pitted against more rural, conservative areas in competitive races.
    • Connecticut- How is Connecticut a swing-state in 20 years? I’m not very bullish on Democrats future hopes in New England right now. If you look right now, Democrats only hold two of the six Governorships. They could lose Connecticut this year. The region is very white. The only state with a mega-market in it is Massachusetts. What keeps this state from going away from Democrats? Suburban New York and Boston voters. Higher education centers and highly educated voters. Hartford. Even with those things, New England is quite white and not huge fans of taxes. Expect this state to be competitive.
    • Colorado- Put this state next to North Carolina as a state that I almost made Blue. Educated millennial voters have moved to metro Denver at a fast clip. The Latino vote should grow in Colorado moving forward. Even so, it’s a “Denver vs. the world” effect out there. In large sections of the state, Democrats probably won’t be overly competitive. This state, like Pennsylvania and Minnesota, will constantly come down to turnout in their largest metropolitan market. Denver isn’t as large as Philadelphia, so their margin of error will be a little smaller. Fortunately the state’s demographics are a little better than Pennsylvania’s in 20 years. It will still be a battle.
    • Nevada- There’s Las Vegas and the “rest of Nevada.” Democrats aren’t going to win much in rural Nevada, meaning their margins in Clark County will need to continue to decide elections. Democrats should continue to win the Las Vegas market, but they don’t win it as crazy big as one might think. Lots of older white people live in Clark County, which narrows the margins. Democrats are held up by a sizable Latino voter shares and organized labor’s considerable strength in Las Vegas. If Republican sabotage of labor weakens Vegas labor, this state may be red. Labor’s strength may decide this state’s political future.
    • Washington- If you remove the Seattle market from Washington, it’s already red. That divide probably won’t lessen in years to come. As long as Seattle remains a destination for young workers, Washington will remain blue. Still, this state’s political future will entirely ride on Seattle’s turnout, so it’s not a safe bet in twenty years.
    • Rhode Island- Either Rhode Island will continue to perform like a well-educated Boston suburb, or it will perform like an extremely white, Catholic state. Like Connecticut, I like the chances of Democrats better in the southern part of New England than the north. I still think Democrats will have to fight for it.
    • Oregon- Take everything I wrote about Washington, and put Portland in the place of Seattle. While this state is traditionally liberal, it’s also largely rural and white, which I’m predicting to be the data points that matter. Can Portland keep it Blue? Maybe. It’s not a lock though.
    • Vermont- How can I put Vermont here? The home of Bernie Sanders as a swing state? Well, there’s a few things to consider here. First, they have a Republican Governor right now, which isn’t terribly odd for them. Second, it’s very rural. Third, it’s a very pro-gun state. Vermont’s perceived liberalism may not be as “baked in” as others think, especially as the parties shift. Burlington is not a mega-market that can keep Vermont “blue” on it’s own.
  • So how important are those states in 20 years? About 125 electoral votes worth. 22 Senate seats worth. Another 100 or so House seats. If Democrats do well in these states, they can cobble together Electoral College victories and small House majorities. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a Senate majority between these states and all the ones in the base.
  • What this means of course, is that Democrats will need to keep several states competitive enough to win sometimes that I did not put into this mix. Perhaps Arizona will belong in this group, or Mississippi, or South Carolina, none of whom are on my current list. I’m not bullish on the current trajectory of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio- mostly because their major urban markets have seen major population declines, and I am not certain they can overtake the declining returns of national Democrats in their more rural areas- but Democrats will need to compete in them and occasionally win to build governing majorities. I should include New Hampshire and Maine here, two rural, white New England states that don’t feel like they trend with us in this re-alignment. These states moved far towards the Republicans in Trump’s 2016 win and have Republicans as Governors currently. Even so, Democrats probably can’t check out on them.
  • Obviously trends can change. The middle-aged and elder Trump voters and their brand of politics will begin dying during the next 20 years, and young Republicans could make the party more libertarian. That may calm some of the white-nationalist rhetoric- though I’m doubtful, and I know that doesn’t drastically change their policies. The internal Democratic fight- of identity vs. ideology- isn’t over yet. Things can happen. Changes will happen.
  • No matter how much I shift things though, I keep coming back to the same two definitive data points- non-white voters and major metropolitan, global marketplaces. No matter how I apply those, the future for Democrats, on the current trajectory, is threading a needle in every election. The Democrats may never lose another popular vote for President in this country, but have many repeats of 2000 or 2016 in the future. Because Democrats win many of their House seats with more than 75% of the vote, even in a country where the majority want a Democratic House, Democrats May never see majorities the size of the one they had in 2009-10. Because half the country will live in eight states in 2040, and most of the non-white votes will be in those states, the Senate may very well simply exist to thwart the desires of the nation’s majority through a safe, conservative Senate Republican majority.
  • Here’s the part though that is most concerning. The open antipathy between the bases of the two parties may create a situation in the future where the minority of the country, the rural white states, rules with an iron fist over the majority of the country in those eight big states. I’m not sure if it will rise to the level of apartheid South Africa, or Saddam’s Iraq, but the Trump era must make you concerned about it. If “owning the Libs” is the motivating factor of the Republican Party, rather than governing an increasingly diverse country and improving outcomes for even those across the partisan divide, our union will be severely tested in ways not seen since the Civil War. That’s a dark future to look forward to.
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