Friday, August 10, 2012

Demography of US Politics

This piece has a very good take on how changing demographics has altered what it takes to win in the US at the Presidential level.  The gist is that Romney can have a relative landslide among whites and still lose if Obama maintains enough turnout and support among non-whites.  The piece tries to be even handed by saying that the GOP forfeits the White House if it cannot appeal to non-whites, but that the Dems will have problems with Congress until it can get enough white support.  Sure, this makes some sense.  But I have a couple of points that could not fit into a tweet or two:

The piece tends to make equivalent a party failing to get more than 20% of non-whites with a party that might get 40% of whites.  What I mean by this is that the GOP appears to be have far more problems appealing to non-whites than the Dems have of appealing to whites.  In any US election at the national level, the outcome is going, the loser is going to get somewhere around 40-49% of the vote (McGovern and Goldwater were in the high 30's).  So, losing some but not all whites is not so damning as the GOP being so miserable about non-white votes. 

Ok, let me be clearer: I think it is abhorrent but normal for one party to be essentially quite racist in its appeal.  The Democrats may often be feeble and divided, but that comes with being a bigger tent.  The party aims to be a multiethnic party.  This might offend some whites, but the party is not anti-white (at least not if one sees reality as it is, not as they fear it to be). 

To be clear, as a political scientist, I understand that the Republican strategy used to make sense--get enough whites and you can win.  But not anymore.  By alienating Hispanics who often have similar values to Republican voters (especially on social issues like abortion), the Republicans gave up California years ago.  That is bad electoral math.  And that math is going to get worse than this article suggests because the demographic shifts have not stopped.  Whites will not lose their plurality status, but they will lose their majority status in many states.  Texas Republicans understand this a bit better, sort of, that if they alienate the Hispanics there, state elections will start to be competitive. 

I understand that lots of the passion and polemics of the last few years (the Tea Party) are a response to the realization that white folks are going to have to share power with non-whites.  This is not a horrible thing, but actually the continued realization of the American dream and the challenges of diversity.  It used to be the case that folks feared the Irish vote and the Italian vote, and so on, but now those immigrant communities are seen as Americans and as worthy targets of vote-seekers.  The Democrats lost the South in the 1960s by supporting civil rights---it was costly in the short and medium term, but history was on their side.  Obama is the beneficiary of the politicians doing what was right back then. 

The Republicans, unless they change course, will be on the wrong side of history.  When Sarah Palin indicated that she just wanted the support of her "Real America," I was fine with that since white, rural America is not only short of 50% but shrinking.  The Republicans will have to face a reckoning at some point--allow some of its members to move back to the middle and to appeal to minorities or become irrelevant.  Not today but soon.

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