Quite a bit of garbage has been heaped upon John Judis and Ruy Teixeira's The Emerging Democratic Majority over the years, the 2002 book that predicted "demography as destiny" in Sun Belt states becoming purple, if not outright blue, as they gained more Black and Hispanic voters. What the book failed to predict is that Rust Belt states would become redder at the same time for the opposite reason: more white voters.
Biden is running a campaign based on de-polarization, treading very lightly on divisive cultural issues and eagerly welcoming support from Republicans tired of Trump. However, Biden’s shift from the last two Democratic campaigns is in tone, not substance. He hasn’t diluted the party’s position on abortion; he just talks about it infrequently. He’s subtly inviting pro-life voters who have soured on Trump to feel more comfortable crossing party lines.
Recently the New York Times interviewed just such a Republican voter. “You’d think I’d be glad to hear that [Trump] nominated a judge who is pro-life,” this voter said. “But I think what we need more than anything else is someone who is broadly pro-life, not just worried about the unborn, but about the living.”
Politico talked to two women at an event for a Michigan Democratic congresswoman who described themselves as longtime Republicans primarily because of their abortion views, but have since rethought their party affiliation. “I’ve had it with this idea that you’re only pro-life if you fight against abortion,” said one. “I can’t be that single-issue Republican anymore.” With Biden turning down the temperature on abortion, even in the face of a hotly contested Supreme Court nomination, some pro-life voters are finding it easier to voice nuanced views and shed any sense of obligation to choose a political team based on one’s abortion position.
Biden can be quite blunt when talking about race, even calling Trump a “racist” to his face in last week’s debate. But he consistently balances his rhetoric on racism with reminders of his own white working-class roots. During a CNN town hall in Pennsylvania last month, Biden was asked if he benefited from “white privilege.” Biden responded without hesitation, “Sure, I've benefited just because I don't have to go through what my black brothers and sisters have had to go through.” But recognizing that many in the white working class bristle at the notion that they are privileged, Biden quickly added, “Grow up here in Scranton, we're used to guys who look down their nose at us. … We are as good as anybody else. And guys like Trump, who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited, are the people that I've always had a problem with.” Without crudely equating the black and white working-class experiences, Biden is attempting to display understanding of both and close the racial divide.
If Biden’s de-polarization strategy works as intended, and polls show it is, he will win with a geographically broad coalition. In fact, if Biden wins everywhere he is leading in the RealClearPolitics averages as of Saturday, he will win 375 Electoral College votes, 10 more than Obama did in his historic 2008 victory.
A President Biden would certainly have challenges in maintaining a big tent party while being pressed by his left flank to move, and speak, aggressively on a slew of fronts. But if successful, the Republican Electoral College advantage would be no more.
The Republican skew manifested first in 2000, as Al Gore’s environmental and gun control record -- and Bill Clinton’s personal behavior -- eroded gains Clinton had made in the Sunbelt and the Midwest. Even though Gore won the popular vote, with the help of the Supreme Court he lost Florida and the Electoral College.
But Democrats are not without their own Electoral College advantages. In 2004, if 60,000 Ohioans who voted for George W. Bush had voted instead for John Kerry – out of 5.6 million votes cast – Kerry would have become president without a popular vote majority. Democrats have won 20 states, and Washington, D.C., three times in row, totaling 232 electoral votes. Democrats may have “wasted votes” in densely populated states like California, New York and Illinois, but that also gives Democrats a big head start in any election year.
Republicans have won 22 states three times in row, but only get 179 electoral votes out of them. And some of those Republican states — Arizona, Georgia, Texas and South Carolina — have shown signs of shift, with Democratic House or Senate gains in 2018 and surprisingly close margins in presidential or Senate trial heat polling. If one or more of these states turns firmly blue, while no currently blue states becomes less so, the Republican Party will be at a massive disadvantage, irrespective of the small shift in electoral votes that will come after the 2020 census.
Perhaps American democracy would be better off without the Electoral College, but that day is highly unlikely to ever come, as both parties would have to see the wisdom in abolishment at the same time to enact the necessary constitutional amendment, or adopt any sort of workaround on a state-by-state basis. Fortunately for Democrats, they are perfectly capable of winning the Electoral College this year. And after 2020, if Democrats can continue to avoid the pitfalls of polarization, winning may become even easier.