Jonathon Chait has become the latest unhinged (but supposedly intelligent liberal) to believe in the “oh so feel good” liberal theory that the GOP is destined to become demographically extinct. I guess it should not come as a surprise he would like this theory. Especially as generic ballot polls show the GOP is likely to hold the House and the president cannot break 50% approval ratings or post more than mostly meager leads over his likely GOP challengers. But just like other Democratic and left leaning demographers have found out, demographic predictions as well as how people vote is not an exact science.
Chait’s main argument (link to it at the bottom of this article) is that the GOP is so dead set on beating Obama because it may be their last chance. Chait cites the predictions of two well-known leftist demographers, John Judis and Ruy Texiera. These two demographers wrote a book back in 2002 predicting that an emerging Democratic Majority was coming. Yet in 2004 Hispanic turnout was only 2% over 2000. Furthermore Bush won 44% of their vote. But Judis and Texiera also saw Democrats doing better among college educated whites and women while the GOP was confined to older and rural, socially conservative white voters.
Certainly to a degree in 2006 they were right. But Hispanic and black turnout actually shrunk from 2002 (the last midterm election) and Democrats inroads came almost exclusively from white voters. In 2008 Judis and Texiera’s predictions were thought to have been proven true. Blacks came out in massive numbers and women and college educated men backed Obama. Hispanics voted 68%-30% for Obama but there vote share barely grew 1% from 2004. But move forward to 2010 and women (for the first time since 2002) backed Republicans and the gains Obama made among college educated whites evaporated. Worse, the 2006 and 08 gains Democrats made among blue-collar, rural whites disappeared. So the prediction of Texiera and Judis is at best only half right and has not sustained itself over a long enough period of time to be called anything more than a theory.
But beyond the fact that Texiera’s and Judis’s theories have a troubled, short record there are other reasons to doubt that there theory will become reality.
The first would be that our political system is designed for two parties. And that means that if one party over steps another will take its place. Furthermore, the GOP and Democratic Party are constantly remaking themselves. To predict the GOP will continue to only appeal to one set of voters when they know they cannot win elections with that group is the heighth of foolishness. For both the left and right being highly ideological currently benefits both so of course they would both do so. As more and more Hispanics (and other minorities) become accustomed to the American political system and further integrate into our society they way they vote could also change. It is worth noting there is evidence that Hispanics in majority-white areas vote for like whites (which means more Republican) than Hispanics in majority-Hispanic areas.
Another reason why this prediction has yet to come true (and likely never will) is that coalitions come and go. Sean Trende, an analyst at Realclearpolitics.com and author of the new book, “The Lost Majority,” presents some interesting thoughts on why predictions of a permanent majority never came true. Subtle shifts in voter behavior (especially as we have seen since 2006) can have significant impact on a party’s enduring control. Trende contends, and I agree, that the reason why the Democratic Party controlled the House for forty years (as they were being slaughtered in most presidential elections) was because the Democratic Party was essentially two parties in one at the time. The Southern Democratic Party was a mix of black and white interests with a few Republicans. The national Democratic Party was white, liberal and generally looked down with disdain at Southern Democrats. This enduring majority in the House is often cited as an example why long-term majorities are possible.
As coalitions fade, whether they are founded on the basis of support for an issue, candidate or party, voters shift their support from one party to the other. Again, the last three elections highlight his trend. In 2006 minority turnout was no larger than 2002 and Democrats won based on a coalition of rural whites, women, minorities and college graduates. In 08 minority turnout increased but the GOP took back rural whites. In 2010 the GOP turned the tables and established a narrow coalition of rural whites, women, college graduates and a third of the Hispanic vote. This indicates that one of the supposed cores of the “Emerging Democratic Coaliton,” college educated whitr voters, are really the knewest swing voters.
Yet another reason why Judis and Texeiera’s theory is at best possibly right is that the emerging Democratic Coalition is incredibly unstable. One of the advantages of a political party being able to appeal to one particular group (as the GOP did to rural whites in the 80’s) is that the group’s views are fairly homogenous. This allows the party to craft a simple party platform and stick to it. The GOP still largely appeals to whites today, but it now is balancing rural and suburban interests, growing it’s share of the vote in the Hispanic community and holding onto social conservatives in the South. But for all this, the GOP is largely white and thus the party’s supporters interests are fairly homogenous.
Not so the Democratic Party. The Party is essentially balancing metro and suburban interests, minority interests (which are numerous and often opposed to each other) as well as liberal environmental and welfare programs. These interests are far more diverse than the GOP’s interests. And that makes the Democratic Coalition as it stands now extremely fragile. Just look at ongoing fights between Hispanics and African-Americans in the party’s power struggle. African-Americans have long held lofty positions but with black population growth stagnant and likely half a dozen to a dozen new Hispanics expected to enter the halls of Congress in 2013 this struggle is likely only to intensify. Look at how women abandoned the party in 2010 only to come back. But as women have come back younger voters have left over isses such as wars and drugs. As Democrats have started to appeal heavily to the urban poor and minorities left leaning suburban whites have started to turn to the GOP on fiscal issues (just as Democrats thought this group was a lock with the birth of the Tea Party).
Internal frictions in parties ar nothing new. But they do show yet again why permanent majorities are virtually impossible to achieve in a democratic, two party electoral system. These three reasons (and many more I could mention) show why the GOP’s demographic extinction has been greatly exaggerated. Sorry Chait.