Demographics and the GOP future

Jonathan Chait wrote an article for New York magazine about how ongoing demographic changes favor the Democrats, who have the allegiance of the majority of African-Americans, Hispanics and young people.

Obama’s election was the vindication of a prediction made several years before by journalist John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. Despite the fact that George W. Bush then occupied the White House, Judis and Teixeira argued that demographic and political trends were converging in such a way as to form a ­natural-majority coalition for Democrats.

The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.”  Meanwhile, the Democrats had ­increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities. 

As a whole, Judis and Teixeira noted, the electorate was growing both somewhat better educated and dramatically less white, making every successive election less favorable for the GOP. And the trends were even more striking in some key swing states.  Judis and Teixeira highlighted Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, with skyrocketing Latino populations, and Virginia and North Carolina, with their influx of college-educated whites, as the most fertile grounds for the expanding Democratic base.

via 2012 or Never.

Chait said the Republican strategy is to convince working-class white people that a liberal elite is trying to make them sacrifice for the benefit of undeserving minorities and pool people, and that 2012 represents the last chance to roll back the welfare state before minority groups, the poor and the young become the majority.  If they fail, they face a “Democratic policy steamroller” symbolized by Barack Obama—young, hip, urban and black—who represents everything they resent and fear.

There is a certain about of truth about the Republican strategy, which relies as much on setting up obstacles for voting by minorities and young people as on getting out the vote of their own supporters.

Where Chait errs, in my opinion, is that he thinks that American politics consists of a struggle between coalitions of voters.  I have come to think, from reading writers such as Thomas Ferguson and Jacob Hacker, is that the voting blocs are not the players, but the pieces on the chessboard.

The players are Goldman Sachs, General Electric, Blue Cross / Blue Shield, Exxon Mobil, the Koch brothers, Bain Capital, Halliburton Industries, other big corporations and their industry associations.  We the voters get to choose among candidates, but these organizations choose what choices we get to make.

Thus we have a debate over whether we want Clinton-era taxes or Massachusetts-style health care, but not over what to do about corporate power and the de-industrialization and financialization of the U.S. economy.

Neither party’s leaders address the practical concerns of their core supporters—long-term unemployment, retirement security, erosion of wages and benefits.  If either party were to do that successfully, it would win the allegiance of a majority of voters, white, black and Hispanic, old and young.  They then would have a better reason than in-group loyalty for voting for one party or the other.  But in order to do that, they would have to have to challenge the corporate powers that benefit from the status quo.  Neither party, as now constituted, will do that.  There isn’t going to be any “Democratic policy steamroller.”

Aside from that, a lot could happen between now and November.  We could be at war with Iran.  We could be in the second phase of a double-dip recession, brought on by rising oil prices and the European financial crisis.  Democratic leaders shouldn’t count their chickens before they’re hatched.

Click on 2012 or Never for Jonathan Chait’s article.

Click on Why Obama’s Re-Election Is Going To Look A Lot Like 2008 for an article in The New Republic by Ruy Teixiera.

Click on The Brown Majority for the source and context of the above charts, which was taken from the on-line Boston Review.  The charts are interesting, but I say: Beware of long-range predictions based on projecting current birth rates into the indefinite future.  Over the long run birth rates of various groups tend to decline as the groups become more prosperous.

The following chart by a statistician named Andrew Gelman shows the breakdown of the 2008 Presidential vote by state and income level among Hispanics, blacks and non-Hispanic whites.

Double click to enlarge.

The following chart from the National Journal, based on exit polls in the 2010 elections, indicates the racial divide in American politics.

Double click to enlarge.

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