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Opinion Have white Americans lost their minds? Donald Trump hopes so

White America, it all comes down to you. If Donald Trump ends up suffering the worst electoral defeat in modern history, it will be because enough of you couldn't bear to vote for him.

And if he winds up as commander-in-chief of the most powerful nation on Earth, it will be because enough of you bought into his campaign of racial and cultural insecurities. Election 2016, whatever its result, is on you.

That's because there are two giant demographic constants in U.S. politics – and they both have to do with race.

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The first big fact: White Americans, who make up the majority of the U.S. population, are overwhelmingly supportive of the Republican Party. A Democratic presidential candidate has not won the white vote since 1964. And the Democratic Party's problem with white people has actually been getting worse: Barack Obama took just 39 per cent of the white vote in 2012, compared to 59 per cent who voted for Mitt Romney.

But despite losing white America, big time, Mr. Obama still ended up winning the White House. Which brings us to the second, inescapable demographic fact of U.S. politics: The percentage of the American population that is white has been gradually but inexorably declining for decades. And the non-white vote is even more slanted against the GOP than the white vote is tilted in its favour.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush won 60 per cent of the white vote – which translated into 53 per cent of the popular vote, and an easy victory in the electoral college. But a generation later, Republican Mitt Romney went down to defeat, despite capturing almost the same level of white voters. That's because the white share of the electorate fell from 85 per cent in 1988 to 72 per cent in 2012. This November, the Pew Research Center says whites will make up 69 per cent of eligible voters.

The demographic shift may partly explain the success of Donald Trump's campaign of resentment and insecurity. But it also explains why Mr. Trump is likely to go down to defeat in November.

Hillary Clinton will start this campaign with a huge advantage among non-white voters. Black Americans make up 12 per cent of the electorate, and about 90 per cent of black voters will be backing Ms. Clinton. The next biggest minority group are Hispanics, also at 12 per cent of the population. In recent elections, about two-thirds of their votes have gone to the Democratic presidential candidate. Hispanic voter turnout has historically been much lower than whites and blacks – but Mr. Trump's campaign stands a good chance of both raising Hispanic turnout and increasing the proportion of Hispanics voting for Ms. Clinton.

A little back-of-the-envelope math suggests that, in order to beat Ms. Clinton, Mr. Trump will have to win substantially more than 60 per cent of the white vote. That's a bigger share than the GOP has taken at any time in the last 40 years, with one exception: Ronald Regan's "Morning In America" landslide in 1984, when 66 per cent of whites voted for him. And that was accomplished by an extremely popular president, leading a united party, during a post-recession economic upswing. Mr. Trump doesn't have any of that going for him.

But I wouldn't count Mr. Trump out. The odds were overwhelmingly against him in the primaries, yet he eviscerated his allegedly stronger competition. He figured out what Republican voters wanted to hear, and day by day, he moved the electorate to him. It wasn't a fluke.

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U.S. elections are games of inches, played out across only a handful of states. Some states are solidly Democratic (New York, California) while others have been solidly Republican (much of the South and West). Normally, only some states are in play. And if Mr. Trump can shift a percentage point or two of voters in a few of those swing states, that could be the difference between defeat and victory.

If Mitt Romney had picked up half-a-million extra votes across just four states – a mere four-tenths of one per cent of all votes cast – he would now be President.

Whether Mr. Trump succeeds where Mr. Romney failed, or ends up on the wrong side of a landslide of record proportions, will come down to exactly how many white Americans, or how few, have completely lost their minds.

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