Ok, this is another post on the US Elections, and I’m sure you’ve seen quite a few of those in the last few days, but this was a very interesting piece from RealClearPolitics about some of the myths swirling around the unbeatable demographic majority that the Democrat Party was destined for in the twentieth-first century. As Sean Trende notes, in the early years of this century two demographers, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira wrote the book “The Emerging Democratic Majority”. In it, they argued that “progressive centrism” would deliver a new majority coalition of working-class whites, women, African-Americans and Hispanics and professional whites to Democrats. This thesis was expanded by many in the wake of the 2006 congressional election and the 2008 presidential election who argued that demographic shifts would result in pockets of Republican holdouts being overwhelmed by a “blue tide”. Republicans were demographically doomed to the electoral wilderness.
According to Trende, this theory has been holed below the waterline by the 2016 election, after suffering much structural damage in the 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections. Since “The Emerging Democratic Majority” was published, Republicans have won four of seven elections. Looking at all levels of government; the Republican Party is the strongest it’s been since the 1920s. Trende provides some very good reasons as to why this has happened, and I’d recommend reading his entire piece. But here I will pull out some of the most interesting demographic points.
In 2008 and 2012 African-American voter turnout rates exceeded white turnout rates. This is exceptional, generally African-American turnout rates lag behind white rates by about five points, and in 2016 the norm in this respect was reverted to. The norm was also reverted to in that Trump won a larger share of the African-American vote than McCain or Romney. The historical nature of Obama’s presidency cannot be ignored in this respect.
In terms of Hispanic voters, their proportion of the electorate is growing very slowly (eight per cent in 2004 and 11 per cent in 2016). Furthermore, the Hispanic vote has become more Republican overtime. Trende writes:
“…the Hispanic vote has gradually become more Republican (Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, Jimmy Carter and George McGovern all won larger shares of the Hispanic vote than Obama did in 2012), and that Hispanics become more Republican as they move from the border to the burbs, and that Hispanic immigration has for now levelled off, it may also be the case that the Republican share of this vote will grow.”
Mocking the Republicans as the “Party of White Voters”, as some Democrats have, is extremely short-sighted. Winning about 60 percent of white voters (which make up 70 percent of the electorate) will give a party a good chance of winning elections.
In terms of the gender gap (the difference between the male and female share of the vote), 2016 was the largest on record (a 24 point spread). But, just like in the years with the second largest spread (2000) and the third largest (1980) the Republicans won. The four smallest gender gaps in history (1976, 1972, 1992 and 2008) were all Democratic victories.
White evangelicals are a very important demographic. They made up 23 percent of the electorate in 2004, and 26 percent in 2012 and 2016. Look at this very revealing point:
“Trump received more votes from white evangelicals than Clinton received from African-Americans and Hispanics combined. This single group very nearly cancels the Democrats’ advantage among non-whites completely. This isn’t a one-off; it was true in 2012, 2008 and 2004.”
Finally, a reliance on the belief that demography is destiny and that that destiny would favour them, might have influenced some of the recent decisions of the Democratic party. Trende shows how getting the demographic trends wrong can be so problematic:
“I have little doubt that a belief that demographics would save them at the presidential level led Democrats to take a number of steps that they will soon regret, from going nuclear on the filibuster to aggressive uses of executive authority. But one thing deserves special attention. A good deal of e-ink has been spilled describing the ways in which the culturally superior attitudes of the left drove Trumpism. This too, I think, derived from a belief that history had a side and that progressives were on it, combined with a lack of appreciation of just how many culturally traditionalist voters there are in this country.”