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.

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