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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Five Big Purple Trends

As the Noteworthy box at the top of this site indicates, a long-awaited Brookings Institution briefing by TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira and the University of Michigan’s William Frey–two of America’s top political demographers–on trends in the “purple states” occurred on Friday. The PowerPoint from the presentation is out, along with the third and fourth installments of Teixeira and Frey’s detailed regional analysis of purple states, on Florida/Virginia and Michigan/Ohio/Missouri.
You should read all this material yourself, but here’s a summary of the five big purple trends that Teixiera and Frey talk about in both the overall summary and the regional analyses:
(1) The struggle for Democratic gains in the shrinking but still critical white working class vote;
(2) Definite Democratic gains (against a persistent Republican advantage) in the expanding white-college-educated segment of the electorate (including those with some college);
(3) Significant increases in the number of pro-Democratic minority voters–especially Hispanics and Asians–in many purple states;
(4) The continued and enhanced domination of battleground states by voters in metropolitan urban areas; and
(5) The relative strength of Democrats in the faster-growing metro areas among the purple states.
These trends help explain some of the more subtle trends in the national political landscape. Those familiar with the 2000-2004 political “map” may have been puzzled this year by polls showing Barack Obama doing as well or even better in “red states” like VA and FL than in midwestern “purple states” like OH. The less-dynamic midwestern states remain dominated by white working class voters, among whom Democrats are doing better, but are still losing by significant margins. VA and FL, on the other hand, are going through significant demographic and political changes thanks to the steady growth of metro areas with major minority voting blocs and rising levels of college education, such as Northern Virginia, Miami, and the I-4 corridor.
There’s a natural tendency among political journalists to forget demographic factors in the daily swirl of candidate competition and real-life events, or, more often, to isolate one demographic group–soccer moms, security moms, “values voters,” etc.–as all-important. Teixeira and Frey help remind us that this is a very complicated country, and that campaigns play out on a constantly changing landscape that can itself make history.

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