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'All of the divides we have are going to get bigger... We have two coalitions that are pulling apart so much that they almost no longer overlap.'

Ron BrownsteinA national political analyst says whoever wins the presidency Nov. 8 will have to lead a nation that is increasingly two different countries.

Ron Brownstein says that by almost every measure — age, race and ethnicity, residence, geography, education and income — Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump appeal to sharply different constituencies.

“These two ‘countries’ are losing the ability, and maybe even the willingness, to mediate their differences,” he said Thursday, Oct. 20, as the keynote speaker at the 16th annual dinner of the Oregon Business Association.

“All of the divides we have are going to get bigger… We have two coalitions that are pulling apart so much that they almost no longer overlap.”

Clinton is on the brink of winning the popular and electoral vote, but if she prevails, Brownstein said it will happen largely because a majority of voters do not want Trump.

“Whoever wins is almost certainly going to come in with a divided government and unequivocally a divided country,” Brownstein said to his audience at the Oregon Convention Center.

“I think the choice we face is this: Either we find a way to overcome enough of our differences to move on toward the big challenges we face, or in effect, we take all of these issues and say to our kids: It was too hard for us; you figure it out.”

Brownstein is editorial director for Atlantic Media and a senior political analyst for CNN. He is a former national political correspondent and columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

OBA keynoters have often been politicians — among them Sen. John McCain and Rep. Paul Ryan, both Republicans, and Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Chris Dodd, both Democrats — but OBA President Ryan Deckert said he wanted a nonpolitician who could shed some light on an unusual political year.

Party splits

Much of Brownstein’s talk built on his 2007 book, “The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America.”

Between 1897 and 1968, he said, a single party held the presidency and both houses of Congress 58 of those 72 years, including 14-year stretches for Republicans (1897-1910) and Democrats (1933-47).

Since 1968, however, a single party has had control only 12 of 48 years — most recently the first two years of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency — and the longest such stretches lasted just four years each, under Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican George W. Bush.

“It makes it hard to get things done,” Brownstein said.

Brownstein also said party-line voting in Congress is “unprecedented,” almost as if the United States operated under a parliamentary system.

“My one-sentence version of American politics is that Democrats cannot win enough white voters to consistently win control of the House; Republicans cannot win enough nonwhite voters to consistently control the White House,” he said.

As his audience laughed, he added: “That’s it. You can all go home now, or at least drink some more of your great wine.”

More dividing lines

Brownstein touched on how many divisions are affecting the 2016 presidential election:

• Age: Trump wins support from older voters uneasy with the economic and social changes of recent decades, but not from millennials, the nation’s youngest generation of voters under age 35, who are more diverse. Eligible voters in this group now equal those in the post-World War II baby-boom generation, and will become the largest single voting bloc in 2020.

• Race and ethnicity: While Trump may be winning a larger share of white voters than Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Brownstein said the share of nonwhite (including Hispanic) voters has grown — and they are overwhelmingly for Clinton.

Brownstein said the imbalance is more pronounced among young people: Half of those under 18, and more than half under age 5, are nonwhite. “A lot of people fund this threatening or disconcerting.”

• Residence: Obama won 86 of the nation’s 100 most populous counties by a margin of 12 million votes and lost virtually all of the other 3,000 by 7 million to Republican Mitt Romney in 2012.

Brownstein said a similar pattern is likely this time: “I like to say that Republicans now win every county in America with a cow, except in Vermont with its lefty cows.”

• Geography: With a few exceptions, the West Coast, the Northeast and the Upper Midwest vote Democratic, the South, Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states Republican. But Brownstein said Democrats now have a “blue wall” of 18 states, among them Oregon, with a combined 242 electoral votes, just 28 short of the 270 required to win the presidency.

• Education and income: Less educated (high school or less) and poorer people are more likely to support Trump, and better educated (college) and higher-income people favor Clinton — the reverse of traditional patterns.

Despite enormous new opportunities in an emerging economy, Brownstein said, “a lot of people feel they have been left behind” — and inflation-adjusted median household income, half above and half below the 2013 mark of $51,939, is lower than it was 15 years ago.

During a question-and-answer session with Nkenge Harmon Johnson, president of the Urban League of Portland, Brownstein said education matters — especially for the growing number of nonwhite students who will become tomorrow’s national workforce.

“We need to invest in their pathways to success,” he said, if only to support the growing number of retirees dependent on Social Security and Medicare.

While Portland and other cities may attract talented people from elsewhere, he added, “they cannot become great unless the people who grew up here feel they have a chance to share in their success.”

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