Democratic politicians and strategists identify a “suburban revolt” against President Trump and right-wing Republican extremism as the key to victory in the 2018 and 2020 elections. They point to Democratic successes in the off-year 2017 elections in Virginia and New Jersey, and the surprise triumph of Senator Doug Jones in Alabama, as evidence for the party’s plan to target college-educated white women, upper-middle-class moderates and even disillusioned conservatives in the affluent suburbs.
In primary contests last week from California to New Jersey, Democrats pursued that “electability” strategy through the “Red to Blue” project of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which targeted suburban swing voters by clearing candidate fields for moderate and conservative Democrats like Gil Cisneros in Orange County and Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey.
The nomination of centrist candidates may bring Democratic gains in the affluent suburbs in the midterms. But the electoral success of that strategy has previously been modest — and more important, the party has paid insufficient attention to the substantial policy costs of turning moderate and affluent suburbs blue. Democrats cannot cater to white swing voters in affluent suburbs and also promote policies that fundamentally challenge income inequality, exclusionary zoning, housing segregation, school inequality, police brutality and mass incarceration.