Cultural managements

Countrypolitan and Cultural Southerner voters

On Wednesday, Mac McCorkle and Rachel Salzberg released research that shows North Carolina’s “countrypolitan” counties hold the key to Republican victory in North Carolina. According to the authors, Democrats must shrink the GOP margin in those counties if they hope to win in the future. This translates into a strategy that focuses more on persuasion than participation, since the campaign counties are among the whitest in the state and North Carolina’s Democratic base is overwhelmingly African American.

McCorkle and Salzberg compare North Carolina to our neighbors, noting that Virginia has been trending blue for more than a decade and Georgia has overtaken North Carolina as the Southern state that Democrats hope to turn into a shape bluer with violet. North Carolina has a smaller African American population than Georgia and less educated than Virginia. Here, Democrats will have to enlist the support of white voters who are more blue-collar than white-collar. This argues for a message and a platform that focuses more on kitchen table issues than on social issues.

The authors define rural counties as those adjacent to urban centers. They “qualify as metropolitan according to the Federal Office of Management and Budget due to strong working ties with large city counties”, although they have some characteristics of rural counties. These are counties like Cabarrus, Union, Johnston, Henderson and Rockingham.

I would say a lot of counties still have a significant portion of the population born and raised in North Carolina. They are cultural southerners. In faster-growing counties like Johnston, many have left more rural areas to move closer to jobs in urban centers. They joined other people who grew up in these counties before becoming bedroom communities. In slower-growing counties like Rockingham, most of these people have been there for generations. All have retained their more traditional values ​​and perspectives.

For Democrats to win over these cultural Southerners, they need to find points of agreement, not points of outrage. They have values ​​in common. Many of these North Carolina natives still support public education and see it as a vehicle for economic progress. A significant proportion probably support raising the minimum wage. They want to contain medical costs and they want easier journeys with better roads and better bridges. And they support small businesses more than big businesses.

To win over those voters, Democrats need a message that’s more populist than progressive. For decades, North Carolina Democrats have split from the National Party with a narrow focus on pro-education and business policies. While other Southern states have switched to Republicans in the last 20and century, North Carolina Democrats continued to win at the state level until 2010. Since then, they have managed to keep the state relatively even, winning large majorities of newcomers, even as they have lost the native white population. Only gerrymandering has kept Republicans with such large majorities in the legislature.

As the Countrypolitan study says, Democrats need to lose those voters by a smaller margin. They need an outreach program to convince them that Democrats focus more on economic and educational issues than on cultural issues. Turnout alone won’t solve the problems for Democrats here. They need to win hearts and minds.