Republicans have long bemoaned the Democrats success at playing identify politics. After all, Democrats have successful turned blacks into the discriminated class, Hispanics the ignored class, Asians the educated class, etc. Obama’s campaigns and themes were deeply intertwined with connecting to voters on racial identity, ie. a us vs. them mentality. Republicans have tried not to follow suit but they have. In 2014, Republicans across the country played up the urban/rural dichotomy. Instead of race being the defining identity it simply switched to place.
But Republicans are ill-suited to win these identity battles. The party is largely white and thus seen as representing the interests of the powerful majority. Further, as demographics show whites are shrinking as a percentage of the population meaning the party cannot keep ignoring minorities. On social issues the party used to see as winners they are increasingly trying to turn the page.
But perhaps the GOP may eventually be saved by the melting pot of America, well, fully becoming a melting pot. Consider this article (which infers whites are racist for not being more racist). Fewer Millennials than ever focus on the identifying feature of race and this includes blacks and Hispanics. Further, intermarriages are on the rise. According to a 2012 Pew survey about 15% of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another. Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9% of whites, 17% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 28% of Asians married out. Looking at all married couples in 2010, regardless of when they married, the share of intermarriages reached an all-time high of 8.4%. Combined with data suggesting Millennials are most likely to have one immigrant parent and you have the potential for identity along traditional political lines to fall.
Of course, if old identity political lines fall new ones will replace them. But how this will impact the parties political coalitions is unclear. Consider the Democratic Party today is largely composed of minorities (race) and upscale whites (class). These voters are socially liberal and embrace things such as the LGBT community and gay marriage. The GOP generally wins college educated and blue-collar whites and Asians (2014). But what happens if race fails to be as polarizing as it once was and class takes over? Likely, we will see a weakening of racial support for each party. Instead, it is more likely the parties will become hodgepodges of support as is more the case in Canada and the UK. Regional support could still be prevalent depending on the overall demographics of the region/state/locality.
Still, by far it is Democrats who would most suffer from the fall of identity politics. The party has largely been galvanized in the era of Obama by identity politics and it is already playing out in key 2016 races. Harry Reid has endorsed a Hispanic, Coretz Masto to run for his seat even as he knows Las Vegas (white) Congresswoman Dina Titus considers running. In Maryland, a fight is brewing between Congresswomen Donna Edwards, an African-American woman, and Chris Van Hollen, a white male and member of Democratic House leadership. In a state where over 40% of the Democratic electorate is black and over 50% in the primary Van Hollen faces a tough challenge.
Democrats realize they have an issue. That’s why they have tried in recent years to expand the diversity of their ranks but it has been hard under Obama. During his Presidency numerous minority state and local officials have been defeated. Now, the party is settling on former, white males to carry their banners in minority turnout driven Democratic victory states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. Gee, wonder why nobody is challenging Clinton other than O’Malley? Here is exhibit A.
Fortunately for Democrats, identity politics seems here to stay. This assumes it remains based on race or gender. The GOP does not do badly when it is based on geography. Whether it is over social issues tied to gay rights, race or something else or class voters will always identify with one political party over the other due to the issues. The good thing for the GOP is that once race and gay rights largely fade from the scene and the electorate gets younger the party can more easily connect with voters.