People in "Red America" are not voting against their own interests.
Electoral politics is a complex business. Particularly in the modern mass-media, information age. Campaigning and outreach have been transformed over the last 30 years in ways hard to imagine a generation ago. Over that period, the political divide between left and right has seemed to have grown into a gaping chasm.
The aftermath of the 2016 election has resulted in a lot of soul-searching amongst us aligned with the Democratic Party. Some of it productive, some of it not so much. One thing I have observed is the near universality of the trope that people in "Red America" vote values over their own interests. No matter your ideological bent, if you consider yourself a Democrat, or at least aligned with the left, this notion is accepted as almost received wisdom.
We tend to look at it as some sort of madness or delusional behavior. A sign of some moral deficiency as they are wed to their retrograde rural ways in this ever advancing technological age. The number of press reports talking about this mythic rural voting base as if they are somehow aliens that we must study and observe to understand has been almost amusing.
The hard reality is that we, as a Democratic Party, have made it clear we do not care about them. Yes, in poll after poll, no matter the region of the country, our policy positions are viewed more favorably than the Republican position. I get that, heck I used to make the "voting against their interests" argument myself, and frequently. If that is true, and yet people in these areas continue to vote Republican, it does seem obvious that they are in fact voting against their own interests.
So, how is it we have made it clear to people in these areas we do care about them if they agree with us on most of the issues? Simple, we do not ask for their vote, we do not seek to represent them. In the last election cycle, 1,479 state legislative districts were not contested by the Democratic Party. Those districts represent around 117,000,000 constituents. We did not care enough about them to ask for their vote. Not contesting a seat is a powerful statement about your priorities, it is the most powerful statement of who a political party desires to represent.
People in "Red America" are not voting against their own interests; they are simply voting for those showing any interest in them.
The great thing is this is something we can start fixing right now. I have been doing profiles on every Republican-held House of Delegates District in Virginia since their elections are this fall. In the last election cycle, there were 44 seats representing about 3.5 million Virginians went uncontested by Democrats. This cycle 116 people have picked up the Democratic banner to contest 83 of the 100 House of Delegates races so far. The other seats may pick up contenders by the June 13th deadline as well.
These people we say vote their values ahead of their own interests only do so because they are not exposed to our values on a regular basis. Heck, in Arkansas, Democrats did not field enough candidates for the house there to win a majority even if they won every single race they entered. Arkansas is not the only state where this is true either. Given that, It is not surprising we do not garner more support in these areas.
There are votes to be had there, however. When you consider that voting rates have dropped to just 55% of the eligible voting population even in a hotly contested Presidential race there are people checking out of the system that can be reached. Maybe the people that actually cast a vote for Republicans in these areas can not be reached (I do not believe that), but there are enough people not voting that we can still win if we just had the relationships we need.
By contesting every race we can show voters in these areas that we want to represent their interests. Having candidates on the ground in these races will help liberals build relationships in these communities. It will help our allies in these areas feel engaged and part of the process, instead of being left stranded on their little desert island in a sea of red.
Once we build these relationships then we can demonstrate how our values serve their interests. We will reconnect their existing values, those that align with ours, to the policies we believe will serve those values best. If we show them the basic respect of asking for their vote in the first place, they may show us the support we need to achieve our vision for the country.