More bad news out of Virginia for the party of the hipster elite and its diverse best friends.
In the jigsaw puzzle that is electoral politics, Democrats have often focused their energy on swingy suburbs and voter-rich cities, content to mostly ignore many white, rural communities that lean conservative. The belief was, in part, that the party had already bottomed out there, especially during the Trump era, when Republicans had run up the numbers of white voters in rural areas to dizzying new heights.
Virginia, however, is proof: It can get worse.
In 2008, there were only four small Virginia counties where Republicans won 70 percent or more of the vote in that year’s presidential race. Nowhere was the party above 75 percent. This year, Mr. Youngkin was above 70 percent in 45 counties — and he surpassed 80 percent in 15 of them.
The Dems have steered further leftward and embraced the culture wars. Did they really think that they wouldn’t alienate more people in rural areas with vaccine mandates and their shows of contempt for the rest of the country?
Now their demographers and statisticians are explaining the danger to them.
Republicans have never had a demographic stronghold as reliable as Black voters have been for Democrats, a group that delivers as many as nine out of 10 votes for the party. But some Democratic leaders are now sounding the alarm: What if rural, white voters — of which there are many — start voting that reliably Republican?
This is the new incoming reality.
Republicans are making inroads among Latinos, have shown they can show some strength in the suburbs, and increase their numbers with working-class white voters. The kind of numbers we saw in Virginia were a black swan event, a bad economy, an unpopular Biden, and lefties embracing racial radicalism, but they also showed what’s possible.
Mr. Youngkin not only won less populated areas by record margins — he was outpacing former President Donald J. Trump’s 2020 showing in even the reddest counties, including by six percentage points in Bath County — but he also successfully rolled back Democratic gains in the bedroom communities outside Washington and Richmond, where many college-educated white voters had rejected Republicanism under Mr. Trump.
The twin results raise a foreboding possibility for Democrats: that the party had simply leased the suburbs in the Trump era, while Republicans may have bought and now own even more of rural America.
Nobody really owns anything. The Dems didn’t own rural America and Republicans didn’t own suburbs. But the Republicans are willing to make a play for all sorts of voters and these days it’s the Democrats who are starting to act like the way Republicans used to, unable and unwilling to play the field because they’re too locked in to their base. Base loyalty is important, but it’s starting to look defeatist here.
But the politically urgent problem for Democrats is that rural America has moved faster and further from them in the last 20 years than urban America has moved away from Republicans. From 1999 to 2019, cities swung 14 percentage points toward the Democrats, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center report. At the same time, rural areas shifted by 19 percentage points toward the Republicans. The suburbs remained essentially tied.
Dems are losing old voters faster than they’re gaining new voters. That’s why they have to embrace the churn of demographic change.
Rural, white voters in the past in the North had historic ties to the labor movement and an affinity for the Democratic Party. Increasingly, Mr. Winter said, those voters are more akin culturally to their neighbors to the South than to their local cities and suburbs.
Tom Bonier, one of the Democratic Party’s leading experts on voter data and the chief executive of TargetSmart, agreed. “You look at places in the Deep South where the white, rural vote is approaching 90 percent Republican,” he said. “That’s absolutely the concern.”
The right side of history may not be where anyone thinks it is.