Time to revisit the Rustbelt vs. Sunbelt debate on Democratic 2020 strategy. This time we have some new data to look at, courtesy of Ron Brownstein on the Atlantic site. Brownstein got the good folks at Gallup to give him white college/noncollege breaks from their state by state 2018 approval ratings (which I previously posted about); the results are quite interesting.
Some relevant topline:
“In the key Rust Belt states that Trump captured in 2016, his job-approval rating during 2018 was consistently worse than his national average among whites with and without a college degree, according to detailed figures provided to me by Gallup….
In almost all the Sun Belt states that Democrats are hoping to contest, by contrast, Trump’s approval rating among both college- and non-college-educated white voters exceeds his national average, according to the same previously unpublished results.”
More specifics on Rustbelt states:
“Among whites holding at least a four-year college degree, Gallup placed Trump’s 2018 approval rating at 39 percent in Michigan and Wisconsin, and at only 36 percent in Pennsylvania—each slightly below his national average of 40 percent among white-collar adults. Among his core supporters, whites without a four-year college degree, Gallup placed his 2018 approval rating at 54 percent in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and at 50 percent in Wisconsin. Those were each below his national average of 57 percent with blue-collar whites.”
Comparing these numbers with States of Change estimates for Trump support among these groups in the 2016 election, there are big white noncollege drops (2016 Trump support vs. 2018 Trump approval) in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and big white college drops in Michigan and Pennsylvania. So all three states look quite vulnerable for Trump.
Specifics on Sunbelt states:
“[Trump’s] support among non-college-educated whites was much higher than it was in the Rust Belt: Gallup found that he drew positive job ratings from 73 percent of these voters in Georgia, 67 percent in North Carolina, 66 percent in Texas, and 61 percent in Florida. Likewise, among college-educated whites,Trump ran well above his Rust Belt numbers in all four states….In Arizona, which has moved into play for Democrats in 2020 after Democrat Kyrsten Sinema’s Senate victory there last fall, 59 percent of non-college-educated whites said they approved of Trump’s performance, but only 42 percent of those with degrees said the same.”
These numbers too show some attenuation compared to 2016 Trump support, which is also consistent with some of the data from the 2018 election about these groups in these states. So there are clearly opportunities for the Democrats here too, especially in conjunction with nonwhite populations that are large and generally very hostile to Trump. As Brownstein notes, white voters, especially white noncollege voters, will probably be much harder to move in these states, making very strong nonwhite turnout particularly important.
But there are reasons to doubt that even strong nonwhite turnout may be enough to flip these states. After all, in Georgia in 2018, Stacey Abrams lost her election, despite stellar black turnout (the share of black voters in that election was actually slightly higher than in the previous Presidential election, which is quite unusual). There just wasn’t enough swing in the white vote. A better model perhaps is Arizona, where Kyrsten Sinema both got very strong Latino turnout and big shifts among white voters (both college and noncollege).
Looking at the big picture then, this seems like a fair summary of priorities:
“Considering all these factors, Democratic strategists generally agree that any road to 270 Electoral College votes begins by recapturing Pennsylvania and Michigan, the two former blue-wall states that reverted most sharply toward Democrats last November. But even if the party retakes both, it would still need to win one more state to beat Trump.
Priorities USA, the Democratic super PAC, recently released a strategy memo (linked to below) in which it reaffirmed this consensus by identifying Pennsylvania and Michigan as the two states Democrats are most likely to regain from Trump in 2020. The group then pinpointed Wisconsin as the state most likely to push the Democratic nominee’s vote count over the edge, with Florida ranking next as the state most likely to tip toward the Democrats. The group announced that it will shortly launch a $100 million advertising and organizing effort in those four states.
Josh Schwerin said that toward the end of 2019, the group will also invest in a second tier of states: North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia, three Sun Belt states that Trump won; and Nevada, which Clinton carried….Though Schwerin’s group doesn’t believe Democrats have to choose between the Sun Belt and the Rust Belt, it does believe targets in the latter region may be “somewhat closer” in 2020. “These are states that were blue before,” Schwerin explained. “As Arizona is moving towards us, we are making sure that some of these states don’t move away from us.”
Sounds right to me. Now what candidate is best-suited to pursue this kind of strategy–kind of Rustbelt plus–that is an interesting question. That seems a bit more debatable to me than the general strategy. Let the debate begin!