Last week I discussed the Electoral College in the USA and the link to each state’s population: the more people that a state has, the greater the number of Electors and Members of Congress. In the coming decades the number of Electors that the two most populous states in the Union have (California and Texas) will converge. Texas is growing more rapidly than California and some predictions have it that Texas will be the largest state before the middle of this century. Which will mean that it will have usurped California’s role as the biggest Electoral College prize.
At the moment, California is solidly blue. And Texas is solidly red. Or is it? In 2016, President Trump only won 52.2% of the vote in that State, putting him only nine points ahead of Hilary Clinton. In 2012 Mitt Romney won 58% of the State’s vote, roughly the same as Ronald Reagan had in 1980. Democrats are fielding candidates in all 36 of the State’s House seats for the first time since 1992. Democrats are hopeful that demographic change might be making the state more likely to vote Democrat in future elections than it has been for decades. (President Carter was the last Democrat to win the state back in 1976. The last Democratic governor of the Sate was elected in 1990 and the last Democratic senator was elected in 1988.) One can imagine the lovely dreams that Democratic strategists have of a “blue wall” including California, Texas and New York! But how likely is it?
There are some encouraging demographic signs for Democrats to cling to. A majority of voters in the State will be non-white in 2019, and these groups tend to vote Democratic in large numbers. However, just because this was the case in the past, is no reason to think such voting patterns will stay the same in the future, particularly if one of the names on the ticket is not Barack Obama. Furthermore, a coalition can be hard to hold together. As The Economist notes, there is a tension between higher income liberals and their less affluent potential Democratic allies over things like taxes and housing and planning laws. (As is seen particularly in California, see LA and San Francisco. Did you know that only 15,000 tax-filers in California pay a quarter of the state's income taxes?!) So while slogans such as “anti-racism” might keep a coalition of upscale liberal whites and poor minorities together, this solidarity can easily break down in the face of arguments about higher taxes, or school admission policies. Furthermore, anti-racism can become a dangerous weapon for such a coalition when:
30% of white Democrats told the American National Election Studies in 2016 that it is either “extremely” or “very” important for whites to work together to change laws that are unfair to whites.
Something that other parts of the Democratic coalition might disagree with. Indeed, the trouble that Democrats might have is that while they are adding non-white voters to their electoral coalition, they are losing whites just as fast. According to John Judis (author of “The Emerging Demographic Majority” about 15 years ago which had to be updated to “The Emerging Republican Advantage” in 2015) Democrats still need between 36 and 40 per cent of the white working-class vote nationally to win elections. Attempts to broaden the electoral outreach to other ethnic minorities might mean that that 36-40 per cent mark is never reached. As The Economist notes, “a multiracial coalition can easily become less than the sum of its parts”. Perhaps that is the danger of treating voters as members of ethnic groups rather than as individuals: a group must of necessity exclude some and include some. It is hard to say that one is fighting or favouring or supporting this group or that group without alienating others in different groups. Despite Texas's demographic shifts, it is propbably not about to join the blue firewall just yet.