Metropolitan areas like Atlanta are blue and growing.

Photographer: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Actually, Democrats, You Don't Need Those White Men

Conor Sen is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a portfolio manager for New River Investments in Atlanta and has been a contributor to the Atlantic and Business Insider.
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The Republican Party kept telling Donald Trump that he needed to win over demographic groups outside the conservative base, like Hispanics. He didn't. He won anyway.

Well, Democrats, take heart. You, too, can ignore well-meaning advice from your allies. Disregard anyone who tells you to reach beyond your base. You don't need working-class white men. You already have the constituencies that you need.

As analysts continue to crunch the numbers on how Trump won, the key demographic that represented his path to victory was rural counties in the Midwest. Hillary Clinton mostly held on to the large urban counties that voted for President Barack Obama, but she got routed in midsize cities and rural areas. Essentially, Trump got the rural Midwest to vote like the rural South, a trend in motion for the past few elections as states like West Virginia, Indiana and Missouri trended red. Despite this, the election was close, coming down to 100,000 voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Everything broke right for Trump -- at least in the Electoral College. He lost the popular vote.  

This electoral season has been obsessed with working-class whites. That group handed the presidency to Trump, so it's understandable that the knee-jerk response from Democrats will be how to do better with them in the future. But Democrats should be wary of overcorrecting. Don't try to win Trump's base. Just hold on to the growing Democratic base.

It really is growing, and it really is Democratic. The metropolitan areas in the Sun Belt broke toward Clinton this year, and in 2020 the Democratic candidate could do to North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Arizona what Trump did to the Midwest.

These Southern and Sun Belt cities may still have a conservative reputation in the Northeast and on the West Coast, but that's history. The high-water mark for the conservative Sun Belt suburban strategy was 2004, when the county containing Houston went for President George W. Bush by a 10.2-percentage-point margin, or 108,000 votes. In 2016, this county gave Clinton a victory margin of 12.4 points, or 161,000 votes.

Davidson County, Tennessee, home to Nashville, changed from a 10.3-point margin for John Kerry in 2004 to a 26-point margin for Clinton this year. Fulton County, Georgia, home to Atlanta, moved from an already-large Democratic margin of 19.3 percentage points in 2004 to a whopping 41.5 points in 2016. Between 2012 and 2016, the northern Atlanta counties that powered Republicans in the 1990s -- Cobb, Gwinnett and Forsyth -- shifted about 15 percentage points toward Democrats.

How much bluer could these metros get? Los Angeles is an instructive example. In 1988, Michael Dukakis won Los Angeles County by a 5-point margin. In 1992, that Democratic margin grew to 23.5. That lead continued to grow, and in 2016 Clinton beat Trump in Los Angeles County by almost 50 points. Adjacent Orange County voted for the Democratic candidate for the first time since 1936. These Sun Belt metros might be where Los Angeles was in 1992, just beginning their Democratic transformation -- a terrifying prospect for Republicans nationally.

The next election may represent the completion of the Democratic Party's transition from President Jimmy Carter, the rural southern son of a peanut farmer, to his grandson Jason, the Duke-educated 2014 Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee who lives in progressive Decatur. That is the nation's arc: from rural to urban.

Even more polarization between the two parties along demographic lines may not be the best thing for the country, but the strategy worked for Republicans in 2016 and looks promising for Democrats in the near future.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Conor Sen at csen9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net