I am always amused by theories that, on the American political scene, a party has an electoral lock on the White House or that one party will be in control of Congress forever. Such theories tend to be plentiful just before they are punctured. The latest popular theory on the left is that the Democrats, due to illegal immigration from Mexico, will soon have total political dominance. This has been bruited about since the 2000 election, so “soon” is not a precise term. Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics takes a look at it:
The black vote: Neither of Barack Obama’s wins in 2008 or 2012 were dependent upon African-American turnout. But it certainly helped. Had the Republican nominee in 2008 received George W. Bush’s share of the black vote, and had African-American turnout resembled 2004, President Obama’s 2008 lead would have been halved. In 2012 it would have been reduced to a single point.
The possibility of a reversion-to-mean among African-American voting patterns in 2016 was always a very real one. If you look at turnout rates as reported by the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey dating back to 2002, African-American rates have always lagged Republican rates by around five points, give or take (though if you control for socioeconomic status, African-Americans are more likely to vote than whites). This was true in 2010 as well as 2014. The exceptions were 2008 and 2012, when African-American turnout rates exceeded white rates.
Now, it was possible that we had entered a period with a “presidential” electorate and a “midterm” electorate, but it was foolish to dismiss the possibility of a mean reversion once a charismatic history-making candidate such as Barack Obama didn’t top the ticket. With the African-American share of the electorate declining to 12 percent in 2016, I think it’s pretty clear that something along these lines occurred.
Likewise, with Donald Trump winning a larger share of the black vote than Mitt Romney or John McCain did, and with the midterm electorates looking more like the electorates of 2002 to 2006, we have to take seriously the possibility of a mean reversion there as well.
Hispanics: Analysis focuses on the “fast-growing” Hispanic vote, but the Hispanic share of the electorate has actually increased glacially. It was 8 percent of the electorate in 2004, 9 percent in 2008, 10 percent in 2012, and 11 percent in 2016. If we rely on the census data for the electorate, it has been even smaller. The fact that Hispanics are increasingly adopting a “white” identity (what Reihan Salam calls “racial attrition”) may blunt this growth in the future.
Moreover, I’ve long believed that analysis of what motivates Hispanic voters misses the mark. White and liberal analysts are far too reductionist when it comes to these voters, and for some reason have decided that immigration reform is a make-or-break issue for them. This ignores an awful lot of contrary evidence, such as the fact that a majority of Hispanic voters told exit pollsters in 2008 that immigration reform wasn’t important to them, or voted Republican anyway. It ignores the fact that sizeable minorities of Hispanics voted for anti-illegal immigration candidates such as Jan Brewer and Sharron Angle. It ignores the fact that a large number of Hispanic voters backed Propositions 187 and 209 in California, and so forth.
I was always skeptical (though not entirely dismissive) of the idea that Hispanic voters were on their way to voting like African-American voters. Given that Donald Trump has likely out-performed Mitt Romney among Hispanics, I think it is safe to say that 27 percent represents something of a floor for Republicans. It could be the case that Republicans will suffer further erosion here over time, but given that, over the long term, 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 leveled off, it may also be the case that the Republican share of this vote will grow.
Whites: I have written extensively about the Republican voting trend among white voters, especially among working-class whites. That is obviously an incredibly salient point in the wake of this election, where whites without college degrees voted like Hispanics, but with the impact Hispanics would have if they constituted 40 percent of the electorate. It is true that there weren’t enough working-class whites to win the election for Trump, as many asserted during the campaign. But it was closer than a lot of people think.
I’m not going to rehash everything here; it is pretty well covered in the links. I will just make two points. First, mocking the GOP as the Party of White Voters was, from an electoral perspective, extremely short-sighted. White voters are still 70 percent of the electorate (probably more). Winning around 60 percent of those voters will win a party an awful lot of elections. If Trump were to bring college-educated whites back into the fold, that share will grow.
Second, this chart should have really scared Democrats a lot more than it apparently did.
Women: Here, I can be brief. Analysts are right to examine the gender gap – the distance between the male share of the vote and the female share of the vote – but they are wrong to make predictions based upon it. As I wrote earlier this year, the gender gap giveth, but it also taketh away. We see this on full display in 2016. The 24-point spread in 2016 was actually the largest on record. But like the year with the second-largest spread (2000) and the third-largest spread (1980), it ended in Republican victory. In fact, looking at the years with the four smallest gender gaps in history (1976, 1972, 1992, 2008) we may reasonably ask ourselves if perhaps large gender gaps tend to hurt Democrats.
Overreach: The major theme of my book is that all party coalitions fall apart because, well, governing is hard and it inevitably forces parties to choose among members of their coalition. More importantly – and this is where I think realignment theory isn’t just wrong but also counterproductive – parties see their wins as a sign that they’ve finally “won” at politics. But this hubristic take is always wrong, and usually destructive. Such hubris destroyed the Republican coalition in 1910 when they thought they had won a mandate to pass the self-serving Payne-Aldrich tariff. It weakened the Democratic coalition in 1937 when FDR believed he had a mandate to pack the Supreme Court and pass the Third New Deal. It destroyed the Republican coalition in 2005 when George W. Bush famously quipped that he had earned political capital and intended to spend it.
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.