After their loss in the 2006 midterms, plenty of pundits seemed eager to paint the GOP as a regional party, declining in influence on the national scene and representing only the South and most of the Midwest. In the two weeks after the 2010 midterms, some on the Right have argued that the Democratic Party has retreated to the coasts. The University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog goes further than that. Eric Ostermeier does a little number crunching and argues that the Democrats aren’t just retreating to the coasts, but have become the party of two states — California and New York:
Despite losing six U.S. House seats in New York on November 2nd (with defeats in NY-01 and NY-25 still tentative), the Democratic Party nonetheless continues to be ever more a party of two coasts – with a particular emphasis on the Empire and Golden States.
A Smart Politics analysis of 81 election cycles dating back to 1850 finds that the Democratic Party is now comprised of a larger percentage of Californians and New Yorkers in the U.S. House than at any point since California joined the Union.
When the 112th Congress convenes in January, 28.1 percent of the Democratic caucus will hail from California (34 members) and New York (20 members).
That marks an increase of 4.8 points from 23.3 percent of the caucus after the 2008 election and 6.5 points since the last Democratic collapse after the Republican Revolution of 1994 (21.6 percent).
If Eric means that the two states will hold an inordinate amount of influence over the Democratic caucus, that may well be true. Nancy Pelosi won’t let go of the leadership position in the House and she mainly drives the agenda. But other than that and the sheer number of votes in the caucus from the two states, there doesn’t seem to be much of an argument for the proposition.
It’s also important to remember that the reason these two states have so many Democrats in Congress is because they have so many seats in Congress. They combine for about a sixth of the nation’s population (almost 46 million by July 2009). The two states have 72 seats combined in the House, or just under a sixth of the total number of seats. Since both states tend toward the liberal, it’s not surprising that a substantial number of those 72 will be held by Democrats.
The problem for the Democrats isn’t too many New Yorkers and Californians, but not enough of everyone else, which is the point Eric is making. But the map of the election shows that Democrats do have a fairly widespread draw, although they are mainly concentrated on the West Coast and Northeast these days:
The incidents of blue show strength in places like the Upper Midwest and even through the mid-Atlantic region. Democrats do well in high-density urban areas as well, a fact that has not changed in decades and works against the drift towards regionality for Democrats.
The results of the midterms didn’t show Democrats becoming a two-state party any more than 2006 showed Republicans becoming a regional party. There will be no such thing as enduring majorities any longer, especially with party affiliation declining. What we saw in the last four years is a burgeoning group of unaffiliated voters who don’t want to be pigeonholed into party labels but pretty clearly want fiscal control and politicians to fulfill their campaign promises of cleaner, lighter, more effective government. That’s the real news, and it’s good for the US — and the party that heeds the message.