In this same interlude it doth befall / That the spectator states do present a wall

by Paul Fidalgo // Published June 18, 2009
Demography may not be destiny, say the experts, but the trends of American demographics sure seem to be favoring the Democrats – or so was the theme from a presentation I attended Friday at the American Enterprise Institute. Featuring a stellar panel of political intellectuals and moderated by Brookings' Ruy Teixeira, the event left no doubt in anyone's mind that Democrats' growing appeal to suburban and younger white working-class voters, and the dwindling of the country's rural population, the growing numbers of minority voters and other emergent groups -- what Ron Brownstein called "the coalition of the ascendant" -- meant that Democrats would have a national electoral advantage for the foreseeable future. (Of course, the panel also noted that it wasn't too long ago that we were all talking about a permanent Republican majority, so obviously things can always change unexpectedly.)

Two disparate points from two different speakers caught my attention in particular. First, Brownstein discussed the Democrats' set of safe states -- what he called the "Blue Wall" of 18 spectator states that Democrats could rely upon to deliver their electoral votes to the party's nominee. Later, American Prospect editor Mark Schmitt lamented that Democrats' gains in other demographic areas could render entire constituencies unnecessary for electoral victories. "You don't need 'em!" said Schmitt, who warned that the economic needs of usually-contested groups such as the aforementioned white working class can be safely ignored in such a scenario.

These two ideas seemed to me to be quite analogous. Schmitt worried that significant areas of economic policy could go unaddressed if its affected voters are not seen as a necessary voting bloc, and could be written off; one party no longer compelled to draw them over to their side, the other party presuming their allegiance, even as their raw numbers decline. This sounds fairly similar to the situation faced by the Blue Wall of safe Democratic states that Brownstein mentioned, unworthy of the effort of persuasion for either party, and safely ignored because their electoral outcomes are predetermined. That's a lot of ignoring going on. We elect the president via a system that makes the vast majority of the country utterly irrelevant in presidential elections. And that Blue Wall is not only bad news for the Republicans in those states whose preferences are not registered in the national debate, but for those states' Democrats as well, for though they may send their state's electoral votes to their preferred candidate in a binary election, the concerns of the voters themselves do not need to be addressed in any serious or nuanced way – even by the very party they favor. Moreover, this is also true of the proverbial "Red Wall" of safe Republican states, in which the outcome is also predetermined and therefore the interests of the voters need not be taken into account. What we really wind up with is a "Great Big Wall" of almost 40 states that are essentially safe for one party or another in a nationally close election, and therefore their voters are not worth the resources or attention of national candidates.

Be a given state in the pocket of one candidate or another, instead of saying, "You don't need 'em," one might rephrase it as, "You don't need to deal with 'em!" Of course those be-walled states are necessary for electoral victory, but addressing the concerns of the voters living in them generally is not. Why concern yourself with the needs and desires of voters locked into geographical boundaries where the results are foreknown?

It's important to remember that in all the discussion about safe states, demographic trends, and ascendant voting blocs, what really matters is that every individual person has their vote counted and valued equally by those who would lead us. The attitude ought to be; "You need all of 'em!"

* * * * Right now, the National Popular Vote plan is our best bet for achieving presidential election equality. Learn more about NPV here, and be sure to check out our eye-opening 2006 report on the Electoral College. (2009 edition coming soon!)