Thriving areas are poised to determine the 2018 midterms.
Amid all the polarization and prognostication of this political cycle, the midterms boil down to a simple question: can Republicans keep their coalition of some of the country’s most thriving areas alongside some of its most struggling intact?
Far from the factory towns of the Rust Belt that captivated the punditry and helped determine the winner of the 2016 presidential election, the real battlegrounds of next week’s midterms are concentrated in congressional districts currently held by Republicans in faster-growing, more dynamic, and more diverse corners of the country. The balance of power in the 116th Congress runs through districts such as incumbent Congressman Will Hurd’s length of the Rio Grande, where 7 out of every 10 residents is Hispanic; or Carlos Curbelo’s vibrant corner of South Florida, in which nearly half of the population is foreign-born; or Barbara Comstock’s tech-fueled post in Northern Virginia, the wealthiest district in the country; or Kevin Yoder’s stable and prosperous heartland stretch of suburban Kansas City.
Of the 108 House races that the Cook Political Report classifies as competitive, only 14 are currently held by Democrats, placing Republicans on the clear defensive. From there only 69 races are very competitive (those classified as either leaning towards either party or complete toss-ups)–64 of which are currently held by Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of those very competitive Republican-held districts rank as prosperous or comfortable on EIG’s Distressed Communities Index (DCI), which combines the seven metrics from the table below into one holistic ranking out of 100. Seventy-percent of them fall in the top half of the distribution of overall economic well-being.
The average very competitive Republican-held district had a distress score of 34.8 on the DCI’s latest figures, released this month. That makes them better-off on average than the typical congressional district and much better-off than the average solidly Republican district, which scored more than 20 points worse. Reliably Republican districts look very different from contestable ones, in other words.
On the politically salient measure of business establishments, 55 percent of competitive districts Republicans are defending have fully recovered from the business closures of the recession based on the latest available data; for safe Republican seats, the figure is only 37 percent.
Performance of the average congressional district in select groups across the components of EIG’s Distressed Communities Index
Very competitive districts with Republican incumbents differ in other important ways too. They are far more diverse than solidly-Republican seats, and the average share of the population that is foreign-born is twice as high. Nearly 10 percent more of the adult population has a college degree. One out of every eight adults has an advanced degree, a higher proportion than nationally. The status quo has worked relatively well for most people in these districts. Immigration and globalization are likely to be woven into the fabric of community life. Stepping back, it seems that the 2018 election cycle may hinge on which party best speaks to future-focused constituencies in prospering, fast-growing, fast-diversifying corners of the country. The contrast with the 2016 election cycle couldn’t be starker.
Averages across key demographic indicators for select congressional districts
Above we used the Distressed Communities Index to explore the stark differences between safe and competitive GOP districts. Below we present a more complete survey of economic well-being across all districts nationwide. We hope you’ll join us in exploring the numbers both before and after the election as America chooses its next Congress.