Election 09: Suburban voters are coming back to their GOP home

Educated, affluent, secular suburbanites had been swinging to Obama and the Democrats. No more.
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Susan Hutchison

Educated, affluent, secular suburbanites had been swinging to Obama and the Democrats. No more.

The big news coming out of the 2009 election is confirmation that suburban voters are returning to their Republican home. Consider this commentary from National Journal'ꀙs Michael Barone:

I want to credit for this observations longtime Democratic pollster and political analyst Pat Caddell: affluent suburban voters moved sharply toward Republicans in 2009.

Bergen County, New Jersey, a 56%-42% Corzine constituency in 2005, came within a point or two of voting for Christie, and in Virginia McDonnell carried 51%-49% Fairfax County — Republican for years but recently, [due to] cultural issues and with an increasing immigrant population, Democratic (60%-39% Obama in 2008).

In addition, Westchester County, New York, voted 58%-42% for a Republican county executive after voting almost exactly the opposite way, in a race involving the same two candidates, four years before. The Philadelphia suburban counties, increasingly Democratic in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008, voted Republican in a partisan race for the Supreme Court in 2009.

From the 1996 election up through and including 2008, affluent counties in the East, Midwest, and West have trended Democratic, largely through distaste for the religious and cultural conservatives whom voters there have seen (not without reason) as dominant in the Republican party. Now, with the specter of higher tax rates and a vastly expanded public sector, they may be — possibly — headed in the other direction. An interesting trend to watch.

"Interesting" is an understatement. The movement of affluent, well educated, secular suburban moderates from Republican to Democrat is the tectonic shift that has realigned American politics, elected Barack Obama, and produced Democratic victories in Washington state. If these voters continue to move back towards the GOP, the 2010 and 2012 elections will be very interesting indeed.

I suspect we will see this trend replicated as we continue to count votes in the King County Executive'ꀙs race. The last SurveyUSA poll showed that Dow Constantine was on the way to a comfortable victory because in the closing stages of the campaign he succeeded in making this a partisan race. Democrats were overwhelmingly with Constantine, while Republicans overwhelmingly supported Susan Hutchison. There are over twice as many self-described Democrats in King County as there are self-described Republicans. Pretty simple math.

But the same poll showed Hutchison winning among independents, and I anticipate she will outpoll Constantine in most, if not all the suburban legislative districts that have replaced Republican legislators with Democrats in recent years. His victory was won in Seattle.

The bottom line is, George W. Bush no longer defines American politics. If Dino Rossi had done as well as Susan Hutchison did in King County in either 2004 or 2008, he would be governor today. (Timing is everything in politics.) If Republicans field strong candidates next year, they can win back a number of suburban legislative seats.

As we saw in polling beginning this summer, President Obama is letting Republicans back into the game, especially in the suburbs.  

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About the Authors & Contributors

Chris Vance

Chris Vance

Chris Vance, a former Republican party chairman, is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.