Why Democrats win purple states

When Bernie Sanders surprised no one by failing to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, for some of us the writing was on the wall. Not only was Donald Trump going to beat Hillary Clinton — he was almost certainly going to win most of the so-called “purple” states — Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and even Michigan, where the most reliable predictor for November is the United Automobile Workers’ endorsement in the Democratic primary. The union sat out the race in 2016, and Sanders beat Clinton. While exact figures are not available, it is certain that a huge number of those who voted for Sanders in the primary must have swung in November to Trump.

No one, however, least of all Republicans, has expected Trump’s victory to translate into other significant national-level gains for the GOP in Michigan, a state that has not elected a Republican senator to two terms in the post-war era. John James, a distinguished veteran of the Iraq War and businessman, captured the GOP Senate nomination with ease, thanks in part to an endorsement by Trump. But Republican primary voters are not representative of the Michigan electorate. James is polling behind the incumbent Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow by an 18-point margin. Forty percent of voters in Michigan (where I live) have never even heard of him.

Why do Democrats win statewide office in Michigan? Part of the reason is that Michigan Democrats sound like throwbacks. In her television spots, Gretchen Whitmer, the former state Senate minority leader who is now running for governor, talks about getting tough on crime. In a recent ad, Stabenow appears on camera with a group of farmers, including one self-identified Republican. These men do not seem especially concerned with her views on Planned Parenthood or the provision of restroom services to gender nonconforming individuals. Instead they praise Stabenow for her championing of their interests in Washington, where she was the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee from 2011 until 2015. Her environmental record — including her opposition to mandatory GMO labeling — is appalling to national progressive outfits. But she wins.

While it is true that in Michigan bread-and-butter issues — jobs, the condition of roads, the quality of schools — dominate political discourse, there are social issues that divide voters. The most significant of these is not abortion (which is not widely available outside of urban areas) or same-sex marriage (which was outlawed in 2004 after a statewide ballot initiative, before being legalized nationwide by the Supreme Court in 2015), but race.

This has been true for more than half a century. In 1960, Genesee and Wayne had the highest GDP per capita of any counties in the United States — indeed, the highest in the world. But this prosperity was only possible because it deliberately excluded the large African-American populations of Flint and Detroit. The myth of a golden age of prosperity for factory workers and skilled tradesmen to which both Trump and Sanders alluded is the most powerful …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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