The 2018 midterms and the American Nations

For the past week, readers of American Nations have been asking for an analysis of the midterm elections via the underlying regional cultures identified in the book, which defines our regions based on early colonization patterns and argues that they are and have always been proto-nations. If you’re unfamiliar with the paradigm, you’ll find a good digest here, a quick summary here, and the actual book here.)

With most of the contests resolved, the bottom line is clear: the 2018 midterms exhibited the same regional patterning we’ve long seen in presidential contests, and represents a hardening of regional divides.

argued after the 2016 contest that Donald Trump owed his narrow Electoral College victory to his ability to make gains in the Midlands and rural Yankeedom via very un-Republican communitarian promises he made on the campaign trail: government would rebuild infrastructure, revive US manufacturing, protect entitlements, and replace ObamaCare with something providing better coverage at lower cost. I predicted his failure to keep any of those promises would cause these “Trump Democrats” in places like the Upper Mississippi Valley, upstate New York, and rural Maine to revoke their support of him. His failure to condemn white supremacists, anti-semites, and xenophobes would further consolidate opposition to him in New Netherland (the Dutch-founded area around New York City), El Norte (the Spanish-settled parts of the southwest) and Tidewater (which has been rapidly transforming into something resembling the culturally pluralistic immigrant society of the Midlands.) 

Last week, this is precisely what happened.

At this writing, the Democrats appear to have flipped at least 35 US House seats, and nearly half of them (16) are districts in Yankeedom, the Midlands or straddling the two, including expansive (read: not urban) places like Iowa’s first and third districts, Yankee New York’s 22nd, and, almost certainly once Ranked Choice Voting there is completed, Maine’s white, rural Maine-2, which voted for Obama twice before giving Trump one of the Pine Tree State’s Electoral College votes. Of the remaining pick-ups, 12 were in El Norte, New Netherland, Left Coast and Tidewater. Just two were in the Far West and three in the Deep South. Greater Appalachia – the largest “nation” in the country with a population of nearly 60 million – netted just one.

In statewide contests, Democrats faced heartbreak in close races across Greater Appalachia and in the Deep South, including the Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas Senate contests. That there may have been an effort to steal the Senate and governor contests in Georgia and Florida via voter or vote counting suppression only reaffirms a shameful Deep Southern tradition.  By contrast, their pickups were in states controlled by Yankeedom and/or the Midlands (gubernatorial contests in Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas) and El Norte (New Mexico governor), plus two in Far West (Nevada Senator and governor) — a region I’ve argued is primed for partisan realignment – and one in a state straddling El Norte and Far West (Arizona Senate.)

Where did Democrats flip state legislative chambers? In Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Minnesota – all Yankeedom — New York (Yankeedom/New Netherland) and Colorado (Far West again.) Now state legislative control maps almost perfectly to the American Nations fissures. The 30 state houses Republicans fully control include every single state that is dominated by Deep South and Greater Appalachia, plus most of those in the Far West. Sixteen of the 18 state houses Democrats run are Yankeedom (including every chamber in New England), the Midlands, New Netherland, Left Coast and El Norte; the remaining two (Nevada and Colorado) are Far West. Today, only Minnesota has divided government.

At multiple levels of government, the partisan and American Nations maps have become more closely aligned than ever, largely because the parties are more ideologically oriented than ever. Notice the only real exception to partisan sorting involves a species now extinct in Congress: genuinely moderate Republicans of the old Eisenhower/Rockefeller variety that once held sway across Yankeedom. These endangered creatures – the white rhinos of American politics – easily won reelection to the governor’s mansions in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maryland.

These are encouraging signs for Democrats in 2020, in that they all point to decisive net Electoral College gains for them over the 2016 map. But they’re yet another ominous sign for the survival of our awkward federation, a place where regional divides have become frighteningly acute.

[Update, 11/16/18: I have an expanded version of this analysis up over at Washington Monthly.]