I want to stop here and say that I believe, like Shor, that educational polarization serves here as a crude measure of class polarization. We tend to think of class as determined by income, but when it comes to how it’s formed and practiced in America today, education follows the facets that paychecks lack. A high school dropout who owns a successful pest control business in the Houston suburbs might have an income that is a lot like a software engineer at Google, while an adjunct professor will be more like an apprentice. plumber. But in terms of the classroom experience – who they know, what they believe, where they’ve lived, what they watch, who they marry, and how they vote, act and protest – the software engineer is more like the professor. assistant.
Either way, the sort that educational polarization is taking, inaccurate as the term is, particularly disadvantages Democrats in the Senate, as college educated voters are concentrated in and around cities while non-university voters are strongly rural. That’s why Shor thinks Trump was good for the Republican Party, despite losing the popular vote in 2016, the House in 2018, the Senate, and the Presidency in 2020. “Of course, maybe he under -performs the generic Republican by anything, “Shor said. “But he engineered a real and possibly lingering bias in the Electoral College, and then when you get into the Senate, it’s so much worse.” As he put it, “Donald Trump allowed Republicans to win with a minority of the votes.”
The second problem Democrats face is the sharp decline in ticket sharing – a byproduct of nationalizing politics. As recently as 2008, the correlation between how a state voted for president and how it voted in senatorial elections was around 71%. Close, but plenty of room for candidates to outperform their party. In 2020, it was 95.6%.
The days when, say, Republicans in North Dakota happily voted for a Democrat in the Senate are long gone. Just ask Heidi Heitkamp, the defeated Democrat from North Dakota who is now lobbying her former colleagues to stop the wealthy from paying higher taxes on inheritances. There are exceptions to this rule – Joe Manchin being the most important – but they are so important in politics because they are now so rare. From 1960 to 1990, about half of senators represented a state that voted for the other party’s presidential candidate, noted political scientist Lee Drutman. Today, they are six.
Put it all together, and the problem Democrats face is this: The polarization of education has made the Senate even more biased against Democrats than it was, and the decline in ticket sharing has made it more difficult for individual Democratic candidates to run for their party.
At the top of this analysis, Shor has constructed an increasingly influential theory of what Democrats must do to avert calamity in Congress. The logical chain is this: Democrats are on the brink of an electoral chasm. To avoid it, they must win states with a Republican tendency. To do this, they must internalize that they don’t like and don’t understand the voters they need to conquer. The swing voters in these states aren’t liberals, aren’t awake, and don’t see the world the way people who work and donate to Democratic campaigns.
It all comes down to a simple prescription: Democrats should do lots of polls to find out which of their views are popular and which aren’t, and then they should talk about popular things and shut up about unpopular things. “Traditional diversity and inclusion are very important, but polls are one of the only tools we have to step outside of ourselves and see what the mid-level voter is really thinking,” Shor said. This theory is often referred to as “popularism”. It doesn’t appear to be particularly controversial.