Thursday 18 July 2019

Rozina Sabur: 'In Trump's divided America, voters now value culture over the economy'

  

Taking stand: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks during a midterm election night party. Picture: AFP
Taking stand: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks during a midterm election night party. Picture: AFP

Rozina Sabur in Washington

The midterm elections painted a picture of a divided America, but it's not 50/50 - it's closer to 55-45, with an advantage to the Democrats.

The country is split by economics, as always, but perhaps more intensely by culture.

The Republicans have to confront the growing evidence that Trump's brand of conservatism makes winning elections and governing America pretty hard.

I'm in Pennsylvania, a rust-belt state that Trump won in 2016 against expectations. This year the Republicans lost the governor and Senate races, and fell from 15 House seats to just nine. My hotel is the first House district, centred on Bucks County, where the Republicans held on by their finger-tips.

The winning candidate, Brian Fitzpatrick, presented himself as a moderate - he says he visits a mosque once a week - and that helped, but look around and this is also the kind of small town America Trumpism appeals to.

It's a pretty, historic suburb where several shops shut at 3pm and, in a repudiation of European health-freakery, the local grocery store advertises "Cigarettes Lowest Price Allowed by Law."

Bernie Sauer, a former candidate for mayor, told me that local activists "like what Trump's doing", including the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court - a nomination shrouded in accusations of sexual harassment that, so say the experts, drove angry liberal women to the polls. Sauer insists that the treatment of Kavanaugh was "bad and cruel" and helped turnout Republican voters, too.

Across the state, local politics reordered to reflect national trends. Jason Gottesman, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Republicans, stressed the phenomenon of party switching, which began during Trump's 2016 campaign and has shattered life-long loyalties.

Pennsylvania's big cities and suburbs went overwhelmingly more Democrat, but "we got a lot of support from disaffected rural and [small town] Democrats", notably in areas once dominated by trade unions.

The comparison with Brexit is irresistible.

To be clear: class still matters in US elections. Generally speaking, the poor vote Democrat and the rich vote Republican. But cultural perspective is mixing things up.

Nationally, across all House races, Republicans won men, Democrats won women. The Republicans took those with a high school education or less; the Democrats those with a BA or higher.

The Democrats won white women with a degree by 59-39pc. The Republicans dominated among gun owners and Protestants.

Things were pretty even among Catholics, but the right has a clear advantage among those who go to church regularly. The Democrats swept some suburban areas that once voted Republican, including Texas' 7th district (home to George HW Bush) and the 32nd (home to George W Bush).

The Democrats finished ahead in the national popular vote by around 9pc, which confirms the thesis that America's left is popular among the growing parts of the population, among ethnic minorities, the young, white-collar graduates. On the other hand, the Republicans actually picked up seats in the Senate.

This is because only a third of Senate seats were being contested, including in states where Trump is actually rather popular: Indiana, Tennessee, North Dakota. Trump has every right to claim credit.

The Republicans tended to do well where he campaigned and where the local population, as Mr Sauer suggested, sympathises with his cultural politics.

Some of the Democrats who lost voted against the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh.

Put crudely, the House races probably boiled down to a revulsion against Trump and the return of pocket book issues like healthcare and schools (voters in Wisconsin, for instance, are exhausted with austerity).

But the Senate races were more philosophical. They are a reminder that broadly speaking the country remains moderate to conservative.

This all leaves the president in a stronger position than you might think. Yes, he will now face intense scrutiny from the House, but the Democrat leadership is reluctant to push for impeachment and even if it did, the Republican control of the Senate means it probably can't happen.

Plus, Trump didn't have a happy relationship with the Republican House anyway - a smaller, more conservative cohort will be friendlier to him - and we can't rule out bipartisan action on, say, healthcare, where Trump's instincts might be quietly more aligned to the Democrats.

Demography is destiny and there's no escaping the sense Trump speaks for those who are essentially trying to preserve a way of life - rather than the younger, more culturally liberal Americans who are trying to build a new one.

Irish Independent

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