The rallying cry for Democrats after two consecutive electoral victories in presidential cycles has been described variously as the ‘Blue Wall’, the ‘Emerging Democratic Majority’, and as ‘Crusty Old White Male-itis’. The happy refrain for Democrats in all these memes is the same: Republicans are for the foreseeable future going to be crippled electorally by high turnout and growing numbers of minority voters. The GOP is going to keep losing elections for as long as they cling to out of touch Republican principles like the rule of law, respect for life and individual liberty, which apparently–as the conventional wisdom goes, does not appeal to Blacks or Hispanics.
Similar thinking saturated Republican groupthink in 2004 after Republicans had won the White House for the seventh time in ten elections (and Democrats had only once successfully received more than fifty percent of the vote during that time), until Barack Obama won twice. Success, sans perspective, tends to breed the misplaced expectation that it will continue unabated, and the corresponding rationalizations to reinforce those expectations in spite of facts. Just ask Yankee fans about the mid-2000’s. Or Republicans in the late 2000’s. Or Democrats… In 2016.
The fatal flaw in the permanent Democratic majority argument is hiding in plain sight, if only people looked. Barack Obama performed extremely well among Blacks and Hispanics in both 2008 and 2012, and minority voters are a fast growing segment of the population. The pollyannic plan for Democrat presidential success, driven by growing minority populations and a dwindling White population, makes the mistake of counting on continued Democratic growth from Hispanic and Black demographics and also a static contribution from their White base (yes, Whites are still the majority of Democrat voters).
This is a really, really bad plan. First of all, Democrat election prospects in 2012 hinged on hyper-elevated turnout among Blacks and Hispanics (as well as young voters). Democrats and many pollsters make the mistake of assuming this trend will continue once the first Black president is no longer on the ballot. While it remains to be seen whether Barack Obama permanently changed the electoral landscape in 2008 and forever raised minority turnout in presidential election years, we can safely say that no such trend carried over into 2010 and 2014, when Republicans scored historic electoral victories. When Obama isn’t on the ballot or when he is campaigning for other Democrats, minority turnout returns to historical normalcy. In 2010 and 2014, this meant that Republicans won and the pre-election polls were mostly wrong. Why should we expect this pattern to change in 2016?
The working and middle classes are becoming more Republican. John Judis, repentant author of “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” said on the topic of the middle class: “In exit polling, they can roughly be identified as those who have college—but not postgraduate—degrees and those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $100,000.” This group is now a GOP stalwart, and is growing in strength, not diminishing. The white working class, roughly defined as white, with no college degree, is gravitating toward the GOP so fast it is a small wonder it doesn’t burn up upon re-entry.
Judis goes on: “In the 1980 presidential election, the white working class made up about 65 percent of the electorate; by 1988, it was 54 percent; by the 2008 election, it was just 39 percent. Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin estimate that by 2020, it’ll be 30 percent of the electorate. On the other hand, voters with college degrees but not postgraduate degrees went from 26 percent of the electorate in 2004, to 29 percent in 2012, to 31 percent in the last election. ”
Thus, the GOP finds itself with one growing demographic and one shrinking demographic–but US demographics are not uniform, everywhere. There are states where large white working and middle class voter blocs dominate, in the Midwest and Rust Belt. Wisconsin (10 electoral votes), for instance, is 42% middle class voters, and 54% white working class. Obama lost whites in 2012 by 6%. Other states with large white working class and middle class demographics (and generally fewer minorities) include Iowa (6 electoral votes), Michigan (16), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20), Minnesota (10) and New Hampshire and her 4 electoral votes. That’s a total of 84 electoral votes that the GOP will be able to claim, possibly as soon as 2016.
Meanwhile, demographic trends in other states with large numbers of gentry liberals like Virginia (13 electoral votes) and Colorado (9), and those with heavy minority populations like North Carolina (15) and possibly even Georgia (16) could find themselves in the (D) column in coming years. That’s 53 electoral votes.
Consider this: When President Obama was elected in 2008, the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of whites aligned themselves more closely with Democrats, while 42 percent did so with Republicans. In 2014, that two-point deficit for Republicans had transformed into a whopping nine-point GOP advantage. According to Pew, 49 percent of whites now consider themselves Republicans, while just 40 percent view themselves as Democrats. That is terrible news for Democrats. With numbers like that, it might take a decade or so before they can claim states like Georgia and North Carolina.
The map is changing. The only question is when the dam will break.