THE DEMOCRATS’ DISTORTED COALITION:
Well, nothing but hate.
The root of the Democrats’ woes is that their strength is concentrated in dense House districts and big, urbanized states even as the Constitution deliberately puts a brake on the accumulation of political power by geographically concentrated majorities. . . .
In other words, even if the Democrats manage to carve out a lasting popular vote majority at the national level, that majority might not be reflected in America’s political institutions.
Democrats see data like this and cry foul. If they come up short in the 2018 midterms even as Democratic candidates win more votes, expect a series of treatises against the injustices of territorial representation. Indeed, Wasserman’s framing—that Congress has a “GOP bias”—seems to implicitly endorse the view that the way our institutions are set up is fundamentally unfair.
It’s worth unpacking the (powerful) assumptions that lead to this conclusion. One way of looking at politics is that parties exist to champion a set of beliefs and present those beliefs to voters. In this view, the Democrats stand for, among other things, social liberalism, environmentalism, and high immigration levels. The Republicans stand for, among other things, social conservatism, the development of home-grown sources of energy, and nationalism. Those are the parties’ values, and they are more or less unchanging. Because the voters who tend to support the Democrats’ worldview tend to be clustered in non-competitive blue districts in major metropolitan areas, their votes are “underrepresented.” This amounts to a systemic bias against the Democratic Party.
But this is not the only way of understanding at political competition. In a more “realist” view of politics and parties, there is no bias here—just a failure on the part of the Democrats to compete effectively. In his 1942 treatise, Party Government, Elmer Schattschneider famously wrote that “a political party is an organized attempt to get control of the government.” For Schattschneider, politics isn’t so much about values and ideals as it is about devising a strategy that can win according to the rules of the game. Parties don’t “stand” for anything so much as they constantly adapt their agenda so that it can reliably deliver them to power.
By doubling down on an agenda that plays well in metropolitan centers but flounders in key states and districts, the Democrats have in a sense ceased to operate as “an organized attempt to gain control of the government,” acting instead as a vehicle for certain ideals—and in so doing, created their own handicap. There is nothing stopping the party from adopting a more Bill Clinton-esque cultural stance that could win more seats in the Midwest.
Well, nothing but hate.