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Party of the People No More

The GOP has usurped Democrats among working class voters, increasingly including those who aren't white. Also: Several states will have new maps due to redistricting court fights, while Joe Arpaio decides to run for another office at 91.

U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (left) takes a selfie with Nerelys Caballero (right)
Florida Latinos celebrated Republican victories in 2022.
Sydney Walsh/TNS
Editor's Note: this article is a part of Governing's Inside Politics newsletter. Sign up here.

Party of the People No More: The polls contain essentially nothing but bad news for President Biden. His approval ratings remain sub-40. The numbers for his soon-to-be-certain opponent, former President Donald Trump, aren’t any better, but Trump currently has an edge in enough swing states to send Biden back to Delaware. It’s early, yadda yadda yadda, but Biden’s poor polling among the demographic groups he needs to win is a sign of real trouble.

Adam Carlson, a self-described “recovering pollster,” has been aggregating subgroups in national polls in recent months. Averaging polls from December, he finds that they show Trump scoring double-digit gains among various groups, compared with the 2020 vote. Trump has improved his standing by 13 points among voters under 30; 15 points among Hispanics; and a whopping 30 points among Black voters. The latter showing, if it holds, gives Trump the chance to register the strongest GOP performance among African Americans since the dawn of the civil rights era.

Because Trump has done so much to offend various racial and ethnic groups, it seems shocking that he could be gaining strength among them. Yet his numbers went up among Black, Hispanic and Asian voters between 2016 and 2020 – gains the GOP extended in the 2022 midterms. All those groups continue to favor Democrats, but by less than they once did. Where Barack Obama carried non-white members of the working class as a whole by 67 points, Biden’s advantage among them has dwindled to 16 points.

Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini has published a book attempting to explain this shift, Party of the People: Inside the Multiracial Populist Coalition Remaking the GOP. His point is simple and straightforward: In 2016, Trump proved to have greater appeal to white working-class voters (those without college degrees) than prior Republicans had been able to muster. In the years since, Trump’s appeal has extended to non-white working class voters.

Ruffini admits that it took him a while to catch on to this. “I only saw the swing voters that might be repulsed by Trump,” he writes, “not those drawn to him.” He notes that Trump’s critics find it ironic, to use a polite word, that a candidate they view as reflecting racism or at least racial resentment could have growing appeal among non-white voters. Yet Trump came close to winning re-election in 2020 because of his strong showing among those voters.

Democrats have only themselves to blame, Ruffini suggests. Their focus on identity politics turned out to have greater appeal to the college-educated whites who have become central to the party than to the downscale voters who have been its traditional strength. Among the working-class voters, Ruffini asserts, the Democratic Party stands for welfare benefits for people who don’t work. Non-white blue-collar voters believe in hard work and entrepreneurialism, he writes. Under Trump, Republicans have forever shed their image as the party of the country club. Democrats have lost their historic status as the party of the people.

Again, it’s important to note that Democrats will perform better this year among non-white voters than Republicans will. But Ruffini is confident that their ongoing shift toward the GOP will continue not just this year but into the future. He draws parallels to the white Catholic vote, which once heavily favored Democrats but now is more Republican than the nation as a whole.

For Republicans, these shifts do come at a cost. The GOP can’t afford to continue shedding college-educated suburban voters at the current rate and remain competitive, Ruffini concedes. Yet he believes that overall, the GOP stands to gain more by swapping those voters for gains among the working class as a whole.

Those who are not Republican, he writes, should be glad that this shift is eroding the racial polarization that has been such a dominant feature of contemporary U.S. politics, even if there’s now more of a split by education levels. “In a multiracial democracy,” he writes, “having an electorate that is no longer as divided along racial lines should be a cause for celebration.”

 Janet Protasiewicz
The election of Janet Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin Supreme Court last year has given Democrats the chance to redraw the state’s legislative map.
(Jeff Schear/Getty Images for WisDems/TNS)
Redistricting Drama Continues in Courts: No state has yet voted in 2024, but Republicans have already picked up a seat in the U.S. House. North Carolina Republicans were able to redraw the state’s congressional map for 2024, thanks to a favorable court ruling. The GOP is expected to pick up three additional seats as a result. Knowing they were doomed, three Democratic incumbents opted against even running again, with no Democrat at all filing to run in the redrawn Sixth District. That guaranteed the GOP a pickup before the year had begun.

Normally, the second election cycle of each decade is the quietest. Incumbents have settled into their new districts and not enough people have moved in or out of them to upset carefully conceived partisan advantages. That’s not the case this year, however. With control of the U.S. House hanging by a thread, every seat will be precious. Court decisions are leading to lots of new districts being drawn at both the congressional and legislative levels.

In North Carolina, Republicans were able to run roughshod over Democratic hopes because of a pro-Republican shift in the makeup of the state Supreme Court. In other states, it’s Democrats who are taking advantage of revamped courts to redraw maps. A couple of days before Christmas, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ordered new legislative maps, thanks to the new working majority Democrats won in a judicial election last year. The decision in their favor was entirely expected, to the extent that GOP legislators talked openly about impeaching Janet Protasiewicz, the newest justice, in advance of the 2024 voting.

New York’s top court had blocked a congressional map heavily tilted to favor Democrats before the 2022 midterms. Turnover on that court, however, led to a decision last month that gives Democrats a do-over. Currently, Democrats hold 15 of the state’s 26 congressional seats after their poor Empire State performance in 2022; a new map could easily put six more Republican seats in play. Democrats will no doubt put forward an aggressive partisan gerrymander, but their margin in the state Assembly is thin due to a recent retirement. They’ll need a two-thirds vote to pass a new map and now only have one vote to spare in the chamber.

Last year, a court ruled that Washington state’s legislative map discriminated against Latinos in the Yakima Valley. Democrats have presented five fresh maps, each of which would displace several Republican legislators. “This is a complete gerrymander,” John Braun, the state Senate Republican leader, complained after the maps were filed last month. “It’s just an effort to use the courts as rough cover to pick up a district in eastern Washington without doing a thing to help the Latino community.”

The action is continuing in other states. On Monday, a federal judge picked a new map that will change three legislative districts in North Dakota after finding that tribal voting rights had been violated. (The state is appealing.) In Georgia, Democratic Congresswoman Lucy McBath has switched districts, while several state representatives have decided to retire or will have to run against their colleagues, due to new maps ordered by a court late last year. And, just hours after being sworn in as Louisiana’s governor on Monday, Jeff Landry ordered a special session for next week to redraw the state’s congressional map to satisfy a federal ruling demanding a second majority-Black district.

In the face of adverse court rulings, parties and other players are looking for more favorable outcomes on appeal. On Monday, a federal court set a deadline of Feb. 2 for the Michigan redistricting commission to draw new state House maps, after finding the original configuration racially discriminatory. That commission has voted to appeal to the Supreme Court. Last month, a Florida court reversed a lower court ruling, upholding the state’s congressional map, which plaintiffs had claimed was also racially biased.

No doubt politicians in a few more states will end up playing musical districts this year. But we are almost at the point where the Supreme Court may uphold its own Purcell principle, which holds that courts shouldn’t make major changes to election law, including redistricting, too close to an election. That dynamic kept some unconstitutional maps in place for 2022, contributing to the legal land rush that we’re seeing ahead of this year’s elections.

Joe Arpaio, shown in 2016.
Joe Arpaio, shown in 2016.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Odds and Ends: Do you think American democracy is working well? If so, you’re in a distinct minority. Only 28 percent of U.S. adults are satisfied, according to Gallup polling. That’s a record low. In fact, it’s substantially lower than the 35 percent who were still satisfied in the wake of the Jan. 6 assault on Congress. Republicans now are particularly unhappy…

Joe Arpaio was probably the nation’s best-known and perhaps most notorious sheriff during the 24 years he served in Maricopa County, Ariz. Trump granted Arpaio the first pardon of his presidency in 2017, sparing him a jail sentence in a criminal contempt case.

After losing his re-election bid as sheriff in 2016, Arpaio ran for the U.S. Senate two years later, finishing a distant third in the primary. In 2022, Arpaio narrowly lost a race for mayor of Fountain Hills. He’s now decided to run for mayor again, at age 91…

A handful of cities around the country allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy wants to extend the franchise to such young voters statewide, at least for school board elections…

A few cities also allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. Among them is Washington, D.C., which now has its first non-citizen officeholder. Abel Amene, who emigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia as a teenager, helped lead the push for non-citizen voting and now serves as an Advisory Neighborhood commissioner.

Previous Editions
  • The Michigan GOP is not the only state party with a treasury running dry. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the fix is in for the governor's race. Plus, a reflection of Sandra Day O'Connor, legislator.
  • Democrat Andy Beshear wins re-election in a state that otherwise elects only Republicans to statewide office, the particular challenges facing Black women mayors and other election fallout.
  • Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear looks more likely than not to win re-election. Meanwhile, Louisiana Democrats failed to field candidates in many districts for state House and Senate, Oklahoma's Republican attorney general files a lawsuit to block a publicly funded religious charter school and more.
  • A poll found that 63 percent of Americans agree that the two main political parties do "such a poor job" of representing the public that a third party is needed. Meanwhile, a Republican's home state advantage and demanding input into redistricting.
Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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