It is not news that demographic data poses long-term problems for the GOP–at least unless the party returns to its more responsible roots. For a decade or more, pundits have pointed to the disaffection of Latinos and other immigrant populations, the continuing Democratic self-identification of African-Americans, and the reduced religiosity and increasing social liberalism of younger Americans–characteristics that correlate with voting Democratic.
What has been less remarked-upon is the widening urban/rural political divide. In our familiar red/blue political map, cities are dots of blue in even the reddest states. And in America, as elsewhere, people are increasingly moving to the cities.
The political dilemma this poses for Republicans is obvious. Thus far, the party has responded with efforts to make it more difficult for poor people and minorities to cast their ballots, and (in states they control) with aggressive gerrymandering aimed at diluting urban political power. (And yes, Democrats, in states they control, gerrymander too.)
Now, Ed Blum–who brought Shelby County v. Holder, the case that resulted in the gutting of the Voting Rights Act– is asking the Court to redefine “one person, one vote.”
Is Congress’s job to represent people, or just voters? Currently, all states are required to redraw their political boundaries based on the Census’s official count of total population every 10 years, which includes minors and noncitizen immigrants. But the Texas plaintiffs argue that states should be allowed to apportion seats based on where only U.S. citizens over 18 years of age live…..
A move toward counting only eligible voters, as logistically difficult as it may be, would drastically shift political power away from the urban environs with minorities and noncitizens, and toward whiter areas with larger native-born populations. That’s bad news for Democrats: Of the 50 congressional districts with the lowest shares of eligible voters, 41 are occupied by Democrats (nearly all are Latino-majority seats). Meanwhile, of the 50 districts with the highest shares of eligible voters, 38 are represented by the GOP.
Those “logistic difficulties” would be substantial, with opportunities for all sorts of mischief; the blog FiveThirtyEight notes that calculating the number of eligible voters would “require statistics that no one has.” (In a rational world, Evenwel v. Abbott would never have made it to the Supreme Court for that reason alone.)
What this lawsuit really highlights is that the partisan division between today’s Republicans and Democrats is also geographic, with Republicans primarily rural and Democrats, urban. (Of course there are Republicans in cities and Democrats on farms, but they are the outliers.) The problem for the GOP is that the U.S. population is increasingly urban–city dwellers vastly outnumber rural folks, and movement into metropolitan areas continues to accelerate. The problem for Democrats (and city dwellers) is that state governments are still largely controlled by rural interests, thanks to legal structures originally created for an agrarian nation.
There are plenty of flaws in the arguments advanced in Evenwel–practical, democratic and legal–and election law experts are quite properly focusing on those flaws. But at its root–and at the root of the increasingly hysterical attacks on “elitists” and “intellectuals” and “progressives”–is rejection of the values and diversity and complexity that characterize modern urban life.
That hysteria may attract insecure folks for a while, but over the long haul, resentment isn’t a viable political strategy.