Progressives keep predicting that a demographic tide of younger and minority voters will turn red Republican states into Blue Democratic strongholds. Yet it never seems to happen.
On the eve of Tuesday’s midterm elections, Republicans control not only the presidency, House and Senate, but also 33 governorships and two-thirds of state legislative chambers.
Nonetheless, the Democratic demographic advantage is real and growing. The question is how powerfully that advantage will make itself felt on Tuesday.
African-Americans made up 12 per cent of people who voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University. Eighty-nine per cent of them cast ballots for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.
Latinos constituted 11 per cent of voters, and two-thirds of them supported the Democrats. Two-thirds of Asians, who made up 4 per cent of the vote, also went Democratic.
The problem for Democrats is that white voters constituted 70 per cent of the voting population, according to Roper, and they opted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton 57 per cent to 37 per cent. Typically, white voters are inclined to trust Republicans to manage the economy, sustain a strong military and control the border, while preferring Democrats when social issues such at health-care are at the fore.
But there are signs that the coalition of Republican whites that elected Trump is crumbling. Voters under 44 are more likely to vote Democrat than Republican, and as the baby boomers start to shuffle off their mortal coil, the political power of the Gen Xers and millennials will grow by the year.
And while white voters in the past tended to swing as a block toward Republicans or Democrats, the increasingly overt nativism of the Republican Party is stoking divisions based on education and gender. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll revealed that white women with a college degree favour Democrats over Republicans by 33 points, while white men without a college degree favour the Republicans by 42 points.
To put it bluntly: The Republican Party has become the party of less educated white men.
William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank, argues that elections in the United States now hinge on the turnout levels of minorities, better educated white women and less educated white men. “Their turnout nationally and at the state level could change the direction of American politics over the next few years,” he wrote in a recent report.
Turnout is everything. Minority voters and younger voters are less likely to show up at the polls than older and white voters. “The Republican Party is more coherent ideologically" than the Democratic Party, said Jason Opal, who studies American history at McGill University, in an interview. “They’re better at energizing highly-committed voters.” Evangelical Christians, gun-rights advocates and those opposed to abortion show up at the polls every time. Others, not so much.
Truth be told, the electoral system is tilted in the Republicans’ favour. In the last seven presidential elections, the Republican candidate has only won the popular vote once: George W. Bush in 2004.
But because much of the Democratic vote is heavily concentrated in certain states – California and New York, in particular – Republicans prevailed in the electoral college in 2000 and 2016 by eking out wins in key swing states, especially Ohio and Florida.
Then there’s the Senate. California has a population of just less than 40 million. Wyoming, a Republican bastion, has fewer than 600,000 souls. Each state sends two senators to Washington. Republican dominance in small states in the interior confers a strong senatorial advantage.
There is also the problem of gerrymandered riding boundaries and the dark cloud of voter suppression, both the product of Republican state governments (though Democrats also gerrymander when they get the chance).
Nonetheless, the tide continues to flow in the Democrats’ favour, for one simple, implacable, reason: the birth rate. Whites, Latinos and African-Americans all reproduce at or below 2.1 children per mother needed to sustain the population. In the future, American population growth will rely on Latino and Asian immigration.
In 2016, for the first time, more whites died than were born in the United States. Whites are a minority in the early grades of school. Sometime in the 2040s, whites are expected to drop below 50 per cent of the population.
By then, the Republicans might have learned to embrace diversity. But unless and until that happens, the Party of Trump will face a steeper demographic hill to climb with each election. Including Tuesday’s midterms.