Saturday, April 15, 2023

Embracing Republican talking points won't help Democrats

The following stories are all based on a set of data released by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH).

Dramatic realignment swings working-class districts toward GOP

Kapatur developed a two-page chart that lists every US House district by median income in 2021, with Democratic-held districts highlighted in blue and Republican-held districts highlighted in red. Her point is that the top half of the chart (highest median income) is predominantly blue and the bottom half is mostly red. Axios (first article above) put together a chart of the results.

Here is Kaptur's most often quoted takeaway:
"You could question yourself and say, well, the blue districts are the wealthiest districts, so it shows that the Democrats are doing better to lift people's incomes," said Kaptur. "The other way you could look at it is: how is it possible that Republicans are representing the majority of people who struggle? How is that possible?"

The conclusions being drawn from this data set are misleading. The most obvious contradiction of Kaptur's claim is that election polls have consistently shown that people making less than $50,000/yr vote heavily for Democrats. One could even suggest that the higher up the income ladder one goes, the more Republican they become.

But something else struck me about the reliance on "median income." By design it is based on 50% of the population making less and 50% making more. If we take into account the fact that Democrats dominate in large urban areas, it is important to recognize that those districts tend to include everything from deep poverty to extreme wealth. Rural areas - where Republicans dominate - aren't where the uber-wealthy reside, which means that their median income is naturally lower. 

Because I know my home state's congressional districts, I decided to take a closer look at Minnesota to see what they say about Kaptur's conclusions. To simplify, let's narrow things down to the reddest and bluest congressional district. True to form, the reddest district is the 7th, which is overwhelmingly rural and covers most of the western half of the state. Median income is $64,700 - the lowest in the state. Here's the the breakdown:

The bluest district in Minnesota is the 5th - Minneapolis. Median income is $71, 600. Here's the breakdown:

Even though the percentage of people making less than $50,000 is slightly higher in the rural 7th district (39-34%) the actual number of people in that category is higher in the 5th due to higher population overall. But notice that the percentage of people in the 7th district who make more than $100,000 is 27%, while in the 5th it's 36%. That drives median income up in the latter. While Kaptur suggests that Democrats represent affluent districts, the truth is that they represent diverse districts when it comes to income. 

A quick look at Mississippi demonstrates how all of this plays out in the south. The state only has four congressional districts - all of which fall near the bottom of Kaptur's chart. The highest of the four - the 1st district - is R+18 with a median income of $53,300. The lowest is the 2nd district - the one represented by Democrat Bennie Thompson - with a median income of $37,900. What makes the 2nd district different from the other three in Mississippi? It's racial make-up is 65% Black. The rest of the state (all represented by Republicans) comes in at about 40%. So what's going on in Mississippi is that, with a Republican gerrymander, a Democrat is "representing the majority of people who struggle" - both economically and racially. 

If you followed all of that, congratulations, you now qualify for a degree in statistics. But what it all means is that the conclusions drawn by Kaptur and those writing the articles cited above are simply BS. But it's even worse than that. 

From a political standpoint, Kaptur is claiming that Democrats don't understand working class people while the party is in the midst of implementing a "blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America." If we simply focus on Kaptur's home state of Ohio, here's what that means:
To date, $2.8 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding has been announced and is headed to Ohio with over 125 specific projects identified for funding. This year alone (2022), Ohio will receive more than $2.3 billion for transportation to invest in roads, bridges, public transit, ports and airports and over $240 million for clean water. And, as of today, more than 673,000 households across the state are receiving affordable internet due to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

That doesn't include the fact that, due to the Chips Act, Ohio will be home to a new $20 billion semiconductor factory. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) knows how to celebrate these kinds of achievements. On the semiconductor factory, he declared that "with this historic announcement, we are finally burying the term 'rust belt.'”

I'm not sure what Democrats like Kaptur and Tim Ryan hope to get out of these false attacks on Democrats. But especially when it comes to the latter, it doesn't seem to be working - even in Ohio. After attacking and dismissing Democrats during his senate campaign, Ryan lost to an elitist-wanna-be-populist, J.D. Vance. 

Ohio has clearly gone from being a swing state to a fairly safe red state. And personally, I don't know what it would take to turn that around. But I'm pretty sure that publicly attacking Democrats by embracing Republican talking points (ie, lies) won't do it. 


  1. Thanks for that. If Democrats really do need to reach out to those in need, as if they don't, they can hardly do so by surrendering principle to pretend populism.

  2. What moderates don't understand, at least in Ohio, is that democratic voters are way more liberal and more numerous than journalists understand. Likewise conservative voters are way more anti-liberal and way less numerous.
    When Ryan runs on trying to turn blue collar voters into democrats, he misses the point. He turns off more liberals than he converts conservatives. Instead of focusing on small towns and rural areas, urban areas are where the most voters are to be gained. Ryan mostly ignored Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus. Brown does not.

  3. What it will take are competent politicians that do not slight, belittle, or outright ignore (looking at you KYDems Senate candidates) the Obama Coalition. How many times does he have to stomp the GOP for Southern/Rust Belt Dems to get with the program that it is Barack's party now? And he is undefeated when the candidate is good, and Barack is employed effectively.


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