As we'll discuss further in this series' next piece, nothing has done more to power Republicans' ascendance in the House since 2010 than their success in routing Democrats across these working-class, culturally conservative, often exurban and rural districts—many of which once served as the strongholds for the moderate House Democratic "blue dogs." Republicans have now hunted those blue dogs nearly to extinction, and stamped this terrain as deeply, perhaps irreversibly, red.
In 2012, Obama won just 34 of the 175 districts in this quadrant and captured only a combined 42 percent of their votes. That was a sharp decline from the combined 49 percent of the vote Obama captured in the lo-lo districts against John McCain in 2008. That's partly because after the last redistricting, the districts now follow different boundaries than they did then. But the change is also related to the continued erosion of support among working-class and older white voters that once again proved an insurmountable obstacle for many Democratic House and Senate candidates in 2014.
"It will be very difficult for districts like the one I used to represent to be captured by the Democratic caucus message," says former Democratic Rep. John Tanner of Tennessee, who served as a leader among the blue dogs while serving in the House from 1989 through 2010. "In rural areas—not only in the South, but across the country—the people don't view the government the way [the generation] coming out of the Depression did. The idea of less government and less taxes is very appealing to them."
The effect of these trends is visible in the foreboding bottom line facing House Democrats. Powered primarily by their preponderant advantage in the districts low in both diversity and white education levels, Republicans have consolidated a crushing hold on 76 percent of the 263 districts where whites exceed their share of the national population, and 72 percent of the 245 districts(many of them overlapping) with a smaller than average share of white college graduates.
House Democrats still control a solid 72 percent of the 172 seats that are more diverse than the national average, and 63 percent of the 190 seats with a larger than average number of white college graduates. But, in each case, those groupings represent a distinct minority of all districts.
That trend toward concentration among their best groups suggests how difficult it will be for Democrats to recapture the House while relying solely on the younger, diverse, and socially liberal "coalition of the ascendant" that has powered their victories in the presidential popular vote since 1992. While Obama has twice proven that Democrats can capture the White House while losing a clear majority of whites, the patterns of support across the four quadrants signal that House Democrats can't expect to consistently hold a majority any time soon without improving on that performance. "My view for 10 years down the road is that Democrats are still a majority party at the presidential level and they may become increasingly so because of demographic shifts," says Jacobson. "But it will be a very long time before the Republican structural advantage won't make it difficult for Democrats to win the House."
Next: Where the House was lost.
Stephanie Stamm contributed to this article