Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blue Texas on the Horizon

I've written before about America's changing population demographics, and about how growth in the country's minorities populations tends to favor the Democratic party in elections. But voting patterns can change. Today's immigrant who favors the Democratic ideals of helping those on the bottom of the economic ladder may become the wealthy citizen of tomorrow who finds the low-tax message of the Republican Party more appealing. Recently I've been reading a lot of different ideas about whether America's increasing diversity really favors the Democratic party in the long run, and, if so, what the Republican party can do about it. Some experts and pundits believe the Republicans really are in trouble. Count me among them. Others think that the Republican party will change to win, i.e., move to the left. And still others think that minorities will start voting Republican in greater numbers.

Minority populations in America are growing rapidly. Does this mean the the Republican party is in big trouble? According to John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, authors of the 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority, the answer is yes. Judis and Teixeira make two arguments. One is that minority populations, who tend to vote Democratic, are growing while the Republican base is remaining static. The numbers support this argument. In 2008, candidate Obama won 47 percent of college-educated whites, 42 of whites with less than a college education, 95 percent of African-Americans, 67 percent of Hispanics, 62 percent of Asians, and 66 percent of other minorities. From 1992 to 2008, the share of the vote cast by African-Americans jumped from 8 percent to 13 percent; for Hispanics the share soared from 2 percent to 9 percent; for Asians and other minorities combined, from 2 percent to 5 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of the vote cast by college-educated whites remained unchanged at 35 percent. The share for non-college educated whites fell from 53 percent in 1992 to just 39 percent in 2008.

Judis and Teixeira's second argument is that it's not just the changing demographics of race in America that favors the Democratic party in the long run. America's growing educated professional class supported Democrats by a margin of 52% to 40% in the four Presidential elections between 1988 and 2000. They further point out that as more women have joined the full-time work force, they have also shifted their voting patterns. In the mid-20th century, women voted more frequently with the Republican party than men did. Beginning in the 1980s, women began voting disproportionally more Democratic than men. This year looks to be no exception, with Obama leading among women and Romney leading among men. And the Republican party is continuing to demonstrate that it's tone-deaf when it comes to women's issues.

It's been ten years since Emerging Democratic Majority was written. Are Judis and Teixeira's predictions coming true? So far, the answer is yes. As Ronald Brownstein of the The National Journal noted,

"Start by considering the electorate's six broadest demographic groups -- white voters with at least a four-year college degree; white voters without a college degree; African-Americans; Hispanics; Asians; and other minorities. Now posit that each of those groups voted for Barack Obama or John McCain in exactly the same proportions as it actually did. Then imagine that each group represented the share of the electorate that it did in 1992. If each of these groups voted as it did in 2008 but constituted the same share of the electorate as in 1992, McCain would have won. Comfortably."
 Pat Buchanan summarized the problem for Republicans in another way recently with an article called, Has the Bell begun to toll for the GOP? This piece, while shockingly racist, (hey, it's Pat Buchanan) still makes some interesting points.

Republicans now depend on the vanishing majority (white voters) for fully 90 percent of their votes in presidential elections, while the Democratic Party wins 60 to 70 percent of the Asian and Hispanic vote and 90 to 95 percent of the black vote. The Democratic base is growing inexorably, while the Republican base is shriveling. Already, California, Illinois and New York are lost. The GOP has not carried any of the three in five presidential elections. When Texas — where whites are a minority and a declining share of the population — tips, how does the GOP put together an electoral majority?"

Ok, so far so good for The Emerging Democratic Majority. But what about the 2010 election? Two years ago, the Republicans engineered a sweep that gave them, among other things, control of more state legislative seats than they've ever had. I would argue that the results of the 2010 election actually demonstrated the growing advantage for Democrats. 2010 was pretty much the best election the Republicans will ever have. But in California, the country's most racial diverse state (other than Hawai'i), the Democratic ticket won big. Republican Meg Whitman spent nearly $180 million trying to win the gubernatorial race, yet lost to Jerry Brown by 13 points. Republican Steve Cooley was expected to win the Attorney General's race, yet lost to the much less well-known Kamala Harris.

Many journalists and bloggers are observing that Republicans will need to change the voting patterns of minorities or they will be overwhelmed at the ballot box in a few years. I was especially intrigued by this piece on DailyKos, which talks about the key state singled-out by Pat Buchanan in the article linked above: the great state of Texas. Non-Hispanic whites still outnumber Latinos in Texas, but not by much, and Latinos will soon be the majority. The author suggests that by as soon as the 2020 election, Texas will be more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. And if the Republicans can't count on Texas, they really don't have a prayer of winning another Presidential election. Well, unless the Democrats nominate another candidate like Walter Mondale or Michael Dukakis. Let's face it, doesn't the more charismatic candidate always win the presidential race? And I ask this knowing that I just suggested that Richard Nixon was charismatic. Ugh.

This article from the Yuma Sun by Howard Fischer comments on the same phenomenon. About 60% of Arizonans are non-Hispanic whites. Fischer notes that, "Hispanics make up slightly fewer than one third of the state population... but close to 40 percent of all births recorded in Arizona in 2010 were to Hispanic parents." His conclusion is that in Arizona, long a bastion of Republicanism, "by 2030 the number of Democrats will equal or exceed the number of Republicans." Adam Nagourney of the New York Times wrote recently about how the Republican party can no longer count on the solid support it used to have from voters in the sun belt states. Nagourney writes that although some of the reasons for this are economic, "More transformative is the demographic shift brought on by the influx of Latino voters. It is upending the political makeup of states like Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Florida. And it has come when the Republican Party has been identified with tough measures aimed at curbing immigration." 

As Mr. Nagourney has observed, not only is the tide of population demographics running against the Republican party, that party either doesn't seem to have noticed or doesn't seem to care. Republican leaders have been only too glad to vilify immigrants, and to pass voter identification laws which are quite transparently designed to lower minority turnout. As Harold Myerson of the Washington Post recently commented, "Instances of voter fraud are almost nonexistent, but the right-wing media’s harping on the issue has given Republican politicians cover to push these laws through statehouse after statehouse. The laws’ intent, however, is entirely political: By creating restrictions that disproportionately impact minorities, they’re supposed to bolster Republican prospects." Nate Silver of the New York Times has suggested that the effect of voter identification laws is a swing of around 1% towards the Republican party. Democrats are trying to counter this by challenging these laws and by more positive action designed to appeal to minorities. In July of this year, President Obama announced the suspension of deportations of some illegal immigrants.

Can the Republican party change to win? Some think so. The most thoughtful article I seen on this idea is The Democrats' Demographic Dreams by Jamelle Bouie of the American Prospect. Bouie writes that Republican dogma does offer some appeal to Latinos, being strongly grounded in a social agenda of traditional family values. Observing however that this strategy hasn't really worked so far, Bouie suggests that, "a move away from draconian immigration policies and belligerence could make Latinos a contested demographic."

Ah, but that's the real trick isn't it? The Republican party can win... if only it moves to the left. The number one reason why I believe that the emerging Democratic majority is for real is that the Republican party hasn't made a left-turn since Teddy Roosevelt, and given the antics of the Tea Party, is unlikely to become more progressive in the foreseeable future. Ever since Barry Goldwater, the Republican party has moved in one direction, to the right. In the Eisenhower era, Republican platforms called for strong support of the United Nations, for raising the minimum wage and for broadening unemployment insurance. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan backed amnesty for illegal immigrants. A Republican who supported these ideas today would be drummed out of the party. The 1992 Republican national convention is remembered for an angry speech given by Pat Buchanan in which he attacked the Democratic party for supporting reproductive rights, "radical feminism" and gay rights. Twenty years ago, Buchanan was considered to be something of a fringe element. Today, if would be strange if Republican leader did NOT attack Democrats on these issues.

Jamelle Bouie suggests however a another reason why minorities will eventually gravitate toward the Republican party.  That is, that as minority populations become more assimilated to the feeling that they are mainsteam Americans, and as they become more affluent, that they will be less likely to automatically identify with the Democratic party. Bouie believes that eventually the political preferences of minorities will, "become identical to those of whites’—less dependent on their racial or ethnic traits than on factors like education, wealth, and geography."

This last idea is echoed by a journalist named Sean Trende, who recently published a book called The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government Is Up for Grabs - and Who Will Take It. I realized I needed to give Mr Trende's work a look, as the boilerplate for this book on claims, "In today’s fraught political climate, one thing is indisputable: the dream of the emerging Democratic majority is dead." Wow, just like that, the whole idea is out the window? Well, I haven't read the book. But I have now read enough of Trende's thought on the subject to be able to comment.

First off, one more comment on Lost Majority. The boilerplate review on seems to be attacking a straw man. "How did the Democrats, who seemed unstoppable only two short years ago, lose their momentum so quickly, and what does it mean for the future of our two-party system? Here, RealClearPolitics senior analyst Sean Trende explores the underlying weaknesses of the Democratic promise of recent years, and shows how unlikely a new era of liberal values always was as demonstrated by the current backlash against unions and other Democratic pillars." This suggests that the underlying premise of an emerging Democratic majority is false because the Republicans did well in the 2010 mid-terms and because a lot conservative ideas are currently in vogue. But the idea behind Judis and Teixeira's book isn't that the Democratic party is going to immediately start winning every election. It's that over the next several decades Democrats will become more and more favored to win elections unless voting patterns change or the Republican party changes.

Earlier this year, Trende published an article called Why 2012 is not the GOP's "Last Chance." In it, he explores some of the same ideas that appear in Lost Majority. Trende argues changing demographics aren't as important to elections as perceptions of how well the party in power is governing. Thus the United States is unlikely to see either party dominate for long periods of time. Commenting on the politics of the last decade, Trende writes that when, "a party fights a relatively popular war (2002/04), or when its opponent is pushing through an unpopular agenda amid a sluggish recovery (2010), it wins. When it is fighting an unpopular war (2006), or when the economy is contracting by 9 percent on Election Day and the incumbent president has an approval rating in the 20s (2008), it loses." But again I have to note, Trende's comments don't really put a dent in the argument that while Democrats won't win every election, demographic changes are likely to give them a big leg up in any given election.

Trende also addresses changing populations demographics. He downplays the effect of the population growth of Latinos voters, writing, "While the Latino population skyrocketed in the past decade, the Latino share of the electorate has actually been flat." I disagree. From 2% to 9% of the electorate since 1992 is very significant. And again, there's every indication that Texas and other key states will shift away from the GOP based on their minority population growth. Reading the balance of this article, I see Trende addressing three other possibilities for derailing the Democratic advantage. He says, "I have no doubt that the Republican Party will have to shift its stances on issues." Well, as I've said before, I'll believe the GOP is moving to the left when I see it. He believes, as Jamelle Bouie does, that minorities will begin voting more Republican as they become more affluent, saying, "Latino voters actually tend to vote more heavily Republican as they make more money, suggesting that as this population is increasingly comprised of second- and third-generation Latinos, they will vote more Republican." While I agree this is possible, it's hard to imagine minorities warming up in a big way to a Republican party that's as rabidly racist and xenophobic as what we have today. As I write this, the Republican party is not trying to think up new ways to appeal to minorities. On the contrary, as I mentioned before, it's mostly trying to think of ways of keeping them from voting at all. And it's not exactly helping itself with candidates like Gabriela Saucedo Mercer who won the Republican primary for Arizona's 3rd congressional district this week. Mercer is very concerned about immigration you see. "That includes Chinese, Middle Easterners,...If you know Middle Easterners, a lot of them, they look Mexican or they look, you know, like a lot of people in South America, dark skin, dark hair, brown eyes. And they mix. They mix in. And those people, their only goal in life is to, to cause harm to the United States. So why do we want them here, either legally or illegally? When they come across the border, besides the trash that they leave behind, the drug smuggling, the killings, the beheadings. I mean, you are seeing stuff. It’s a war out there."

One last observation from Trende on the subject really bothers me. He suggests, "if the Democratic Party becomes dominated by Latinos and African-Americans, there’s a good chance that whites will continue to migrate toward the Republican Party." So apparently, progressive Democrats who happen to be white are a bunch of racists who will abandon their ideals if people of a different color become more prominent in the Democratic party. I don't believe that will happen just as I don't believe all these arguments together seriously contradict the idea of an emerging Democratic majority.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Jay Inslee and the Split Ticket in Washington State

Ticket splitting in America isn't what it used to be. Time was when many, if not most voters in the south cast their ballot for the Republican Presidential nominee and for a Democrat for Congress. Of course old-time southern Democrats were actually more conservative than Nixon. North Dakota has had a long tradition of supporting Republicans for President while also electing liberal Democrats to Congress. In 2004, one out of every six voters in North Dakota voted for Bush and for Democrat Byron Dorgan for Senate.

I mention these facts because many voters in my home state of Washington split their tickets between the Presidential and gubernatorial races, and this year is expected to be no exception. In 2004, John Kerry beat Bush by 206K votes, and Democrat Christine Gregoire won her gubernatorial race against Dino Rossi by 133 votes. That is not a misprint. I guess Kerry must have gotten a lot of votes from Republicans who just couldn't stand Bush. In 2008, Gregoire squared off against Rossi again. In that year, Obama beat McCain in Washington by a whopping 521K votes (1,750K to 1,229K) and Gregoire beat Rossi 1,518K to 1,335K. That means more than two hundred thousand Obama voters did not support Gregoire, although few of their votes seem to have gone to Rossi.

I love to recall the 2008 race. Why? In the Presidential race, late polls in Washington showed Obama leading McCain by about 16. The final margin was 17. At the same time, the final poll in the gubernatorial race showed Gregoire leading Rossi by 6, which turned out to be exactly the final margin on election day. And yet the day before the election, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer boldly predicted victory for Rossi. This article seems to have disappeared from the P-I archives, but I managed to find a complete copy, which I am only too glad to reprint at the end of this post. Sadly, the P-I ceased print publication in 2009.

I mention these old voting stats for a reason. This year, Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee is running against Attorney General Rob McKenna for the open Governor's seat. Here is the most recent poll from Washington:

SurveyUSA, 8/3/12:
Obama 54%, Romney 37%
Inslee 48%, McKenna 45%

To summarize, we've seen this show before. These numbers translate to around two hundred thousand voters who are ready to support President Obama but for some reason want a Republican in the Governor's office. I don't know who these voters are, but I do know that Rob McKenna would be a very, very bad Governor. To see Inslee ahead at this point is encouraging. McKenna has higher name recognition, and has spent more money so far. His terrible record on health care reform should be enough to keep too many Obama supporters from voting for him, even if they're too independently minded to vote the straight Democratic ticket.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

November 3, 2008 | Lathrop, Daniel
Byline: DANIEL LATHROP P-I reporter
With voter participation surging outside the Seattle metropolitan area, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire's re-election campaign faces a turnout deficit in her rematch against 2004 opponent Dino Rossi.
A Seattle P-I analysis of voting returns in Washington shows that increased turnout in Republican-dominated counties gives Rossi an edge and that Gregoire needs to either improve her margins or achieve nearly universal participation in the Democratic stronghold of King County to win.
To conduct the analysis, the P-I collected ballot return statistics from all 39 counties late last week, updating as many as possible Friday.
As of Friday, King County had the fifth-worst turnout among absentee voters and the lowest percentage of total voters to cast a ballot, the P-I found.
The two counties with the best turnout in the figures the P-I obtained were Jefferson, 63.6 percent, and Pacific, 61.6 percent. Both went for Gregoire in 2004.
Despite those bright spots for Gregoire, the analysis shows that the Republican Rossi likely would win if relative turnout does not increase in King County and the state's political fault lines remain similar to 2004. Most of the 14 counties that already have had more than half of voters cast a ballot went for Rossi in 2004.
Based on 2004 precinct totals, this year's early voting in King County favors Gregoire by a similar margin.
Of course, both candidates are doing their best to shift those four-year-old political boundaries and have targeted voters they think they can persuade.
"With an election so close, there are votes to be had across the state," Gregoire spokesman Aaron Toso said. "That's why the governor has been running a 'One Washington' campaign."
Toso pointed to Gregoire's improved performance in the primary this year over 2004, increasing her margin over Rossi in King County and pulling past him in Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties, where she lost to him in 2004.
Indeed, in the waning days of the election, Gregoire has made stops all over the state, including recent visits to Spokane, Whitman and Clark counties, often considered hostile territory for Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, Toso said, campaign volunteers have made more than 600,000 calls in an "unprecedented" get-out-the-vote effort launched when absentee voting began Oct. 15.
"It's a different kind of field campaign. A high turnout helps Democrats in general, and we're feeling good at where we're at," Toso said.
But one of the state's top Democratic pollsters sees those efforts largely canceling each other out.
"I think this is going to be a very similar dynamic to what you saw last time. I don't think that there's anything out there that's going to make a big difference in, say, Snohomish or Pierce or Kitsap," said Don McDonough of DMA Market Research in Seattle. McDonough has worked for many of the state's most prominent Democrats, but is not affiliated with the Gregoire campaign.
So far, 42 percent of King County absentees have voted, about 28 percent of the total registered voters. In contrast, at least 14 counties had already had more than half of registered voters return their ballots. In 2004, Gregoire beat Rossi 58 percent to 40 percent in King.
The dynamics of nearly universal vote-by-mail have not yet been tested in a gubernatorial election. Since 2004, the state has gone from having five vote-by-mail counties to 37. Rossi has polled in the mid- to high 40s, but undecided voters historically favor challengers over incumbents.
"What will save Gregoire is higher Democratic turnout and a better Democratic ground operation" than in 2004, McDonough said. "Now what will hurt her is Barack Obama's tendency maybe to turn that focus to states that are battlegrounds."
The Obama campaign launched a major effort Saturday to boost turnout by Democratic voters in Washington, but with Obama polling much better than Gregoire, that effort could be a mixed blessing.
Another "X" factor remains whether the voters who turn out for Democratic presidential candidate Obama will be so-called Dinocrats, voters who backed Democratic nominee John Kerry for president in 2004 but voted for Rossi in the governor's race.
"Our campaign has extensive get-out-the-vote efforts in both King and Pierce counties that include organized phone banking and doorbelling," Rossi campaign spokeswoman Jill Strait said.
"Turning out voters in both counties is of vital importance to winning this election, and with the 'Dinocrat' movement and the double-digit lead Dino has among young voters, we anticipate strong support from even traditionally Democrat-leaning areas.
Nationally, Gregoire is considered the most endangered Democratic governor or senator and Rossi as the best shot for a major Republican upset. Republicans hope to repeat the upset that Republican Dan Evans pulled when he beat Gov. Al Rosellini, a Democrat, in 1964, the year of President Johnson's rout of Republican challenger Barry Goldwater.
So far, independent polling has given an edge to Gregoire, with 50 percent to 51 percent.
It was voters in King County, the state's largest, whose overwhelming backing of Gregoire in 2004 clinched the razor-thin election, and so far they are voting at one of the lowest rates in this election, and the turnout dynamics discovered by the P-I indicate surprising weakness in the Democratic stronghold compared with other areas.
If King County votes at the level predicted by elections officials here - 85 percent - a repeat of Rossi's 2004 margins would put him over the top unless the political landscape somehow improves for Gregoire.
In that dynamic, one bright spot for the Democrat is Jefferson County, home to Port Townsend, which she won overwhelmingly in 2004. Gregoire won nearly 58 percent of the vote there in 2004, and Jefferson County had the highest early voting rate in the state: 63.6 percent of voters already had cast a ballot Friday. Historically, Jefferson is one of the counties with the highest turnout.
"Jefferson County? It's just something in the water. It's a very politically active county," said Nick Handy, elections director for the secretary of state.
In the many less-populous, Republican-dominated counties, Handy attributed the high turnout seen so far to handfuls of "super-vigilant party activists," who in small counties can drive a significant amount of voter turnout.
Secretary of State Sam Reed has predicted 83 percent statewide turnout, a rate that would be reached if trends hold in most counties and if King County performs slightly better than it has so far.
While about half of mail-in ballots are typically returned before the week of the election, state elections analyst David Motz said that it is not clear whether the turnout surge outside the Seattle metropolitan area indicates that voters there will vote more heavily than voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
"People that are waiting until the last minute to vote are probably still thinking about the issues and the candidates," he said. "In a metro area, you're going to have a more diverse population and therefore maybe more undecideds."