If one looks at an election map of America’s counties it is hard to not notice the startling fact that every majority African-American county is blue and virtually every rural majority white country is red. As America’s parties have moved further apart ideologically they have also moved further apart racially. Democrats are the party of minorities and single women while the GOP looks increasingly likely to become more white, men and women, and be dominated in Congress by elderly whites.
The roots of this polarization are structural, Constitutional and ideological. In fact you might be familiar with a few of the reasons why this trend has continued. The Civil Rights Act of the 1960s drove Southern whites to the GOP at breakneck pace. By the same token it ensured African-Americans remain a solid Democratic constituency. The GOP’s turn to the right in the 80’s on family values attracted white married evangelicals and suburban voters but began to alienate metro minorities and single women. More recently the debate on contraception and illegal immigration has seemed to further move single women and Hispanics into the Democrats camp.
But this need not be so. Many might be surprised to note that blacks were Republicans until the Laissez-faire policies of the GOP in the 1920s. In fact, Abraham Lincoln would not have won reelection in 1864 without the help of Northern blacks. Since then however the character of the nation and the political parties has changed drastically.
For both Republicans and Democrats the increasing racial polarization comes at a cost. Republicans benefit by having many minorities and single women consolidated in cities and certain states. This makes it easier to draw Congressional maps that favor them. Democrats benefit most in state-level and federal elections with their base consolidated there is little chance they can lose many races.
But even with the benefits both political parties admit they have to branch out at some point to court new voters. For Democrats they need to continue to add Hispanics and Asians to their core constituency while finding a way to staunch the flow of married whites to the GOP. The GOP has the opposite issue. They need to find a way to reach fiscally conservative but socially moderate/liberal single women in metro areas and court the growing Hispanic population.
Yet the current racial make-up of the political parties makes it hard to do so. Democrats have to court white votes while appeasing their minority base. This is hard to do when to court your minority base you advocate policies such as affirmative action and open borders that many whites feel hurts them. The GOP advocates the elimination or at least whole-sale use of affirmative action and closing the border. It is no wonder whites flock to the GOP but not a big wonder why the GOP struggles with low-income minorities, especially Hispanics.
Of course the problem is not as easy to define as this. As said earlier the polarization has many aspects to it. But as both political parties become more entrenched ideologically, driven by their racial composition, it is hard to see either making a serious attempt to court new voters. For the GOP however it may be more important.
Democrats have the luxury of winning at least 60% of the Hispanic vote since 2002. The Hispanic share of the population has grown massively while the white share of the population has begun to shrink. Recognizing the problem the GOP has not become more moderate or strident on its tone on illegal immigration, the border or minority based policies but put up Hispanic candidates for office. Governors Brian Sandoval (NV) and Susana Martinez (NM) are striking examples of how these Republican candidates can run competitively among this growing voter group.
But that is easier said at the state or local level. Nationally the GOP is likely to continue to nominate white males as their party’s standard-bearer and it looks more and more likely the Democratic party will have more women and minority candidates in the future.
Appeasing constituencies has never been easy at any time but now with ideological purity tests being performed by the left and the right it is becoming easier. Both the majority white conservative movement and majority minority liberal movement in Congress and around the country have driven the dialogue since 2010. President Obama has been pushed further to the left and candidate Mitt Romney further to the right. As this trend continues at every level it is hard to see America’s racially polarized politics disappearing anytime soon.