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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Brownstein: Dems Can Break GOP Control of Key States

Some observations from Ronald Brownstein’s “Can Democrats break the GOP stranglehold on the states?” at CNN Politics:

Now, a new analysis has found that over the next decade, Democrats will face an uphill challenge to dislodge the GOP state house advantage that has allowed conservatives to advance this agenda so broadly and so quickly. In the battle for control of state legislatures, “Democrats face a defensive outlook over the decade ahead,” the Democratic group Forward Majority concludes in a report released Monday. “Good years for Democrats are ones in which power will come down to razor-thin margins; in contrast, good years for Republicans will be total routs.”
The study is based on an exhaustive effort by the group to model how the electoral competition between the two parties will evolve through 2030.
At the national level, the study forecasts another grueling decade of trench warfare in presidential elections between two closely matched coalitions, with Democrats positioned to improve across Sunbelt states adding more racial minorities and white-collar workers, and Republicans likely to gain ground across preponderantly White and heavily blue-collar states in the upper Midwest and potentially parts of the Northeast.
“At the state level,” Brownstein continues, “the study says Democrats face a very narrow path toward breaking the GOP’s current dominance. The study concludes that Democrats have a realistic chance of flipping Republican-held legislative chambers in just six states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona in the near term, and North Carolina, Georgia and, most strikingly, Texas, later in the decade.”
The larger picture presents a tough challenge for Dems:
Democrats begin this competition for state power in a steep hole. Today Republicans control 61 state legislative chambers and Democrats just 37. (The final state, Nebraska, has a unicameral nonpartisan legislature effectively controlled by Republicans). Republicans hold both legislative chambers in 30 states and Democrats in just 17. (In two other states, Minnesota and Virginia, control of the two legislative chambers is split between the parties.) Adding in governors, Republicans hold unified control in 23 state governments and Democrats just 14.
This imbalance gives the GOP tremendous leverage in their efforts to suppress voting by pro-Democratic constituencies. Further, “To increase the party’s odds of winning these battlegrounds, Forward Majority argues that Democrats must increase their organizational investments today in suburban and exurban areas where the party has not typically focused.” Brownstein Adds, “The key for Democrats is to exploit opportunities at the district level that have not been systematically pursued, which can build advantage and shape the electorate of these districts over time,” the report concludes. Most important, the group notes there are “2.2 million unregistered likely Democratic voters in these districts.” In addition,

The study is relatively more optimistic about Democratic prospects in the battle for the White House. Since 2020, an array of Democratic commentators and strategists, such as demographic analyst Ruy Teixeira and data scientist David Shor, have raised alarms that Democrats in the years ahead could be locked out of the White House by increasing educational polarization — the tendency of more well-educated voters to back Democrats and more voters without college education (including potentially more Latinos) to vote Republican. That could benefit Republicans both because most voters do not hold four-year college degrees and also because those who do tend to be concentrated in relatively fewer states that already lean blue.

But Forward Majority’s extensive modeling show the two parties remaining highly competitive for the White House and Democrats even enjoying a slight advantage in conditions that replicate the most common outcomes of the past three decades. The pattern of educational polarization, if it persists, will slightly improve the Republican position through 2030 across the key Midwest battlegrounds (including not only Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but also Minnesota and some Northeastern states), the simulations project.

But, the analysis forecasts, educational polarization, along with growing racial diversity and more in-migration of white-collar workers from other states, will simultaneously improve the Democratic position across four giant Sunbelt battlegrounds: North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona and Texas. An electorate in which Democrats gain among well-educated voters and Republicans grow stronger among those without college degrees, “is not the fight I would necessarily choose. This is the fight that Republicans have chosen for us,” says Roeder. “But those are trade-offs we can absorb in a state like Texas or a state like Pennsylvania.”

Looking toward the future, Brownstein concludes, “emocrats have a realistic opportunity to win at least one chamber and break the complete Republican control of the state legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona, all states whose district lines were drawn by an independent commission. If Democrats can flip at least a single chamber in all three states, Hausman notes, it would ensure that there are states representing at least 270 Electoral College votes where Republicans do not fully control the legislature. Not long ago, Democrats might never have imagined they would need such an insurance policy to ensure a fair outcome of a presidential election, but that may be the new reality they now confront.”

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