Dems’ 15-Seat House Gain in Midwest Points to Tough 2020 for Trump, GOP

January 23, 2019 Updated: January 24, 2019

WASHINGTON—Increasing affluence and education levels seen in a dozen key congressional districts in Midwestern states that flipped to Democrat blue in 2018 from Republican red could be a bad omen for President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election hopes.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow John C. Austin noted in a study published Jan. 22 that “15 congressional districts in the states of the Upper Midwest flipped from Republican red to Democratic blue. These were principally suburban and exurban counties within the orbit of thriving major metro areas such as Minneapolis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh.

“Less noticed was that three Upper Midwest districts flipped the other way, from blue to red—Minnesota’s 8th district in the northern Iron Range; its 1st district in the south, bordering Iowa; and Pennsylvania’s 14th district, encompassing counties in the southwest corner of that state.”

The districts that flipped to the Democrats included four in Pennsylvania and two each in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan. The 40-seat nationwide gain shifted control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats for the first time since 2011.

Noticeable in the dozen seats turning blue, Austin wrote, was the fact that, in addition to strong turnouts among traditional Democratic voters, especially African-Americans, “people were also doing better.”

Except for three districts where redistricting accounted for the partisan shift, Austin said, “residents had incomes higher than statewide medians, as well as higher educational attainment—in most places by considerable margins. Conversely, in the three districts that moved from blue to red, incomes and educational attainment tended to lag statewide figures.”

The differences between the district- and state-wide income figures were in double-figures in five of the seats that flipped to the Democrats, led by Illinois’ 6th Congressional District at 58.5 percent above the state’s median household average and Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District with a 53 percent figure.

The differences on educational levels were less conspicuous, but five of the new blue state districts showed double-digit increases, including Illinois 6th District at 19.5 percent and Michigan’s 11th District at 19.3 percent.

“These voting patterns suggest that newfound economic vitality and changing demographics work hand-in-hand: Support for minorities and a diverse polity naturally builds as the economy changes, and more people feel optimistic about the future for themselves, their families, and their communities,” Austin said.

Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was made possible by winning the Electoral College votes of states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Austin attributed Trump’s wins in those states to voters “specifically those in communities facing long-term economic challenges—[who] exercised a sort of ‘anti-system’ backlash vote in favor of candidate Trump.”

With U.S. median household income up across the country, there will likely be fewer voters like those in the three congressional districts that flipped from blue to red in 2018 where paychecks are down, meaning a decrease in “anti-system” votes for Trump.

If that happens, Democrats will have excellent prospects for recapturing congressional seats and Electoral College votes in key Midwestern states and thus denying Trump a second term in the Oval Office.

Austin’s analysis drew a cautious “maybe” from Heritage Action Executive Director Tim Chapman on Jan. 23. Heritage Action is the 501(C)(4) partner of the 501(C)(3) Heritage Foundation think tank.

“There is no doubt that Republicans suffered losses in suburban districts with more affluent voters,” Chapman told The Epoch Times. “The question is whether or not those voters were motivated by policy and their economic status or by a general disapproval for the Trump administration and the political environment we find ourselves in.”

Chapman said, “We tend to see the latter being the motivating factor … I think we are talking about soccer moms and other middle- to upper-middle-class voters here who are turned off by what they see every day on cable news.”

Chapman pointed to the increasing tendency of wealthier voters generally to vote Democratic “in coalition with the poor at the expense of the working class. This leads the party to be pro-corporate welfare and pro-welfare state. So they support policies like open borders because their corporate donors like cheap labor, while working-class Americans lose out as wages stagnate.”

That process, he said, represents “one of the biggest political opportunities for the GOP. It is nothing short of a potential political and ideological realignment in the making.”

Republicans would have to become the party “that values the dignity of work, the importance of community, the centrality of family, and American exceptionalism,” he said.

But getting there depends on Trump and the GOP regaining Midwestern Democratic leaners based on policy. “That’s an open question, but we have to win some of them back or 2020 will be tough.”