The evening of Tuesday, Nov. 6, brought the latest visual manifestation of our highly divided country: the 2018 midterm elections map. The map was similar to previous election maps — blue on the coasts and, across the rest of the country, wide swaths of red interrupted by blue dots. The major change was in the size of those blue dots: Increasingly, they seemed to be composed of both large cities and the suburbs that surround them. But why?
For two years, the main analytical lens for explaining the unshakable red-blue division in American politics has been culture and ideology: Fox News vs. MSNBC. Gun owners vs. gun skeptics. Colin Kaepernick detractors vs. Colin Kaepernick supporters. “How Everything Became the Culture War” read one recent headline in Politico Magazine. And on the surface, the 2018 midterm elections did indeed appear to boil down to cultural issues: the approach of a caravan of Honduran migrants; the rival narratives of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford; and perhaps most of all, the political style of President Trump, which Democrats view as exceedingly offensive and many Republicans have come to see as acceptable or even admirable.
Yet in that map — and in those expanding blue dots — was a clue to another lens, one that often gets short shrift in explaining the fracturing of our country. That lens is economics — specifically, jobs. Red and blue America aren’t separated just by their cultural politics; they are separated by sharp differences in how their economies have developed over the past half-century. And those economic differences can, in turn, explain many of the cultural differences that so bedevil our political system.
– The Washington Post