The GOP’s minority outreach strategy may appeal to journalists, but has nothing to do with winning elections.
There are few topics that political reporters are more likely to botch up than voter demographics. As an old marketing researcher, I’m often struck by how someone can build a successful career at a major newspaper writing about voting blocs despite quantitative skills that wouldn’t get him out of the mailroom at Procter & Gamble. The incompetence and gullibility of journalists when analyzing electoral segmentation would merely be amusing, except that politicians sometimes start to believe their own press clippings.
For example, Karl Rove’s long-running media disinformation campaign about how desperately the GOP yearned for the “rapidly growing minority vote” garnered the Bush Administration much sympathetic press over the years from liberal reporters who never bothered to pull out a pocket calculator and check whether the picture they were being painted made numerical sense. When the crunch came just before the 2002 midterm election, however, Rove jettisoned minority outreach and went with a massive get-out-the-vote drive that mobilized the party’s white base, helping the GOP to a solid victory.
Unfortunately, President Bush himself fell for his spinmeister’s hype, making increased immigration a high priority as far back as the summer of 2001. Congressional Republicans were unimpressed, understanding perfectly well that trying to bolster the GOP by importing more mostly Democratic immigrants made as much sense in the long run as the old joke about the business that lost money on every item they sold but made up for it on volume. The GOP solons were shooting down Bush’s immigration trial balloon when 9/11 made the plan look foolish.
Still, Bush, the truest of the true believers in Rove’s story, could not be deterred from announcing on January 7, 2004 a jaw-droppingly radical open borders initiative that would allow any number of foreigners to move to the U.S. as long as they could obtain minimum wage job offers. Congressional Republicans hushed it up, but not before the conservative base’s faith in their President’s judgment had been permanently rocked and his fundraising impaired.
One reason for the poor quality of demographic reporting is the invincible innumeracy of journalists. If reporters had a good head for numbers, they wouldn’t be reporters. They could make more money working for the candidates, crunching data and spinning the results. So, the credulous English majors who cover the candidates are constantly being snookered by campaign consultants who enjoy doing sixth grade math.
For example, the linchpin of the widely-repeated argument that the GOP must favor amnesty for illegal immigrants or go down in flames in November has been an endlessly cited quote that Bush pollster Matthew Dowd gave Thomas Edsall of the Washington Post in July 2001: “As a realistic goal, we have to get somewhere between … 38 to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote”—up from 35 percent in 2000.
Indeed, Karl Rove and Co. made the argument that amnesty would be a clever election tactic so many times that when the President finally formally announced his plan, many newspapers reported the move as a cynical and desperate election ploy—not exactly the headlines the White House wanted.
But, did Dowd’s quote ever make any sense? Let’s do the math. How crucial would, say, a three percentage point increase in Hispanics (from 35 to 38 percent) be for Bush? Latinos accounted for only 5.4 percent of all voters in the Census Bureau’s survey of 50,000 household right after the 2000 election. What about 2004? The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials recently forecast that the Hispanic share would reach 6.1 percent this fall.
What’s 6.1 percent times 3.0 percent? It’s a 0.183 percentage point increase for Bush. That’s … not much. In fact, that would be one out of every 546 votes cast.
Obviously, Dowd’s argument for amnesty is malarkey … but nobody in the press corps ever did the arithmetic.
Not surprisingly, journalists are even less ambitious when it comes to manipulating numbers on a computer. For example, you may have seen numerous references lately to demographic splits from the 2000 exit polls. Yet, what happened to the data from the more recent, and thus more relevant, House of Representatives elections of 2002?
On Election Night 2002, the new aggregation software employed by the Voter News Service exit polling system crashed. Eventually, however, 17,872 completed interviews were mailed in and handed over to the Roper Center. A team of academic experts inspected the data and pronounced it comparable in quality to other elections’ exit polling. I bought the raw data from Roper last year and spent weeks fiddling with it in Microsoft Excel. I ended up being one of only three journalists I know of to make extensive use of the 2002 numbers.
The final problem with demographic reporting is that, as with anything involving race, ethnicity, sex, or religion, political correctness gets in the way of honest insight.
For example, let’s consider in detail how Rove played the national press for saps in the 2002 election.
For the Republicans to do better than their mediocre performance in 2000, their options were to:
– Among traditionally Democratic blocs, persuade some members to either switch to the GOP or not bother to show up to vote. For example, Reagan successfully reached out to white union men.
– Or, among normally Republican groups, induce even more to vote GOP or to raise the turnout rate. In the South, for instance, the GOP has become dominant in recent years not by attracting some African-Americans—Bush lost the black vote in Mississippi in 2000 by the astonishing percentage of 96 to 3—but by strengthening its grip on whites—Bush won the state by taking the white vote 81 to 17.
The press typically advocates the first approach, because, well, Diversity Is Good. But, reporters are especially likely to feel that Republicans, rather than Democrats, are in dire need of broadening their tent because journalists so often feel, deep down, that there’s something distasteful, illegitimate, even unthinkable about a party trying to get more votes from white men. In the subconscious media mind, white guys’ votes don’t really count.
I’m not joking. Remember all the articles you read for a decade and a half about how the “gender gap”—the fact that women are less likely than men to vote Republican—was going to sink the GOP? Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation invented the term, to broad acclaim in the press, right after the 1980 election. That Ronald Reagan had somehow overcome the horrifying gender gap and won easily was of no import. Every election thereafter brought a phalanx of articles thundering on about the imminent doom the GOP faced due to the gender gap. This logic could only have sounded plausible to the reporters if they assumed that a woman’s vote counted, or at least ought to count, for more than a man’s vote.
(In reality, the celebrated gender gap is dwarfed by the marriage gap. In 2002, 56 percent of married women voted for the GOP, similar to their husbands’ 58 percent, compared to 39 percent of unmarried women and 44 percent of unmarried men. Overall, the GOP did better than normal among women in 2002, perhaps due to the White House’s clever exploitation of the Homeland Security issue.) Eventually, even the dimmest reporter caught on to the fallacy in the gender gap nostrum, but most journalists still haven’t fully internalized the notion that a white voter’s ballot counts just as much as a nonwhite’s.
That’s why far more articles over the years have advised the Republicans that they must win a higher percentage of minorities’ votes than tell the Democrats they need to gain a higher percentage of the white majority’s votes. Yet, a majority is, by definition, bigger than all the minorities put together. And another name for “democracy” is “majority rule.”
This kind of a-rational prejudice explains why you have probably never heard the chief demographic reason Bush lost the popular vote in 2000: he only captured 54 percent of whites, who made up 81 percent of the electorate. In contrast, his father had sailed to victory in 1988 over Michael Dukakis by garnering 59 percent of whites.
I calculated that if the younger Bush had merely won and additional three percentage points (or 57 percent) of the white vote in 2000, his margin in the Electoral College would have broadened from 271-267 to 367 to 171. But what if he had to sacrifice minority votes to do that? Remarkably, even if picking up those three percentage points had cost him every single minority vote in America, he still would have tied 269-269 and been elected President by the House of Representatives. (Because it grants even the most thinly populated states three votes, the Electoral College is biased in favor of white voters.)
Rove never explained these facts to the press, however. Instead, he spent years telling reporters that the GOP was going all out to win more minority votes. So, when Republican House candidates swept to a more impressive victory in 2002 than in 2000, many wrote up the story as Rove had primed them.
But, that’s not what happened. In truth, as the long-lost exit poll data ultimately made clear, over the first two years of the Bush Administration, GOP House candidates lost popularity among minorities. They won 25 percent of all nonwhite voters in 2000, but fell to 23 percent in 2002.
Looked at another way, minorities contributed merely 8 percent of all GOP votes in 2002, down from 10 percent in 2000. (Ironically, at the 2004 Republican convention, minorities made up 17 percent of delegates and alternates, more than twice that 8 percent of voters.)
Minority outreach flopped, but the Republicans romped. How could this have happened?
The Republican House candidates increased their share of the white vote from 55 percent to 59 percent. And whites cast 82 percent of the ballots in the less glamorous midterms, up from 81 percent during the 2000 Presidential contest. Therefore, GOP House candidates averaged a five point margin of victory compared to a one point margin in 2000.
All this talk about inroads among minorities turned out to be a convenient smokescreen obscuring the GOP’s greater appeal to whites, who tend to be more interested than minorities in foreign policy issues. Also, environmentalism, which drove some affluent and well-educated white voters to the Democrats during the peace and prosperity of 2000, faded in importance during the turmoil and recession of 2002.
Perhaps most importantly, the GOP vastly improved its get-out-the-vote-drive in 2002. Turnout efforts are always focused upon a party’s traditional supporters since no party likes paying good money to remind the other party’s backers to vote. Because blacks favor the Democrats by about 10 to 1, they are the most cost-efficient group to turn out, and Democratic operatives got them to the polls in large numbers in prior elections. In 2002, however, the Democratic machine faltered, while the Republicans executed their “ground game” far better.
In 2004, Bush’s Open Borders proposal doesn’t look like it’s even going to help Bush among Hispanics, much less overall. The two most recent polls of Latinos showed that if the election is close, Bush might not beat the 35% he won last time.
That’s no surprise, because Hispanic voters tend to be deeply ambivalent about illegal immigration, which hurts their wages and overcrowds their schools. Even if they were enthusiastic for more of it, Republicans were always vulnerable to being outbid on immigration, since Democrats actually benefit from it. To assuage Congressional Republican complaints that increased immigration means more Democrats, the Bush 2004 plan would turn illegal and many new immigrants into helots restricted to lengthy but supposedly limited stays (yet their American-born children would still become automatic citizens).
But that bit of realpolitik conceded the rhetorical high ground to the Democrats. Sen. John F. Kerry is calling for illegal aliens to be put on “the path to citizenship,” which at least sounds more patriotically inspiring than Bush’s plan to keep scores of millions permanently disenfranchised. A poll by the James Irvine Foundation found that Hispanics favored the Democratic approach over the Bush scheme by 75 percent to 16 percent.
Despite all the hoopla about Hispanics as volatile swing voters (much of it pushed by Latino campaign consultants trying to make their services sound more necessary), they have been solidly, but not overwhelmingly, Democratic ever since John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic President. In contrast to blacks, whose adamantine antipathy toward Republicans knows no season, the GOP’s popularity among Hispanics generally rises and falls in the same cycles found among whites. For example, the GOP’s best election among Latinos was the so-called “angry white male’s” big year of 1994, when Newt Gingrich-led Republican House candidates captured 39 percent of Hispanics. This pattern confuses journalists because they don’t look at the voting trends among whites, so they become overexcited by the ups and downs in the Latino balloting
Since 1980, the GOP has always performed between 19 and 28 percentage points worse among Hispanics than among whites. In 2002, for instance, the GOP won 38 percent of the Latino vote, up from 35 percent. Yet, because the GOP’s white fraction rose by four points, the gap between whites and Hispanics grew from 20 to 21 points (59-38 in 2002 compared to 55-35 in 2000). Ho-hum.
But, but … everybody knows the Hispanic vote has grown so much that Republicans must, as Mickey Kaus jokes, “Hispander” to them on immigration, right? Didn’t mass immigration-boosting pundit Michael Barone, editor of The Almanac of American Politics, claim last year that the Hispanic vote “could be 9 percent in 2004…”?
Well, as historian Daniel Boorstin liked to say, in America there’s often a profound confusion between facts and those things that haven’t yet gone through the formality of taking place. Hispanic electoral dominance is one of the latter. According to the authoritative Census Bureau study, the Hispanic share of the vote actually fell from 5.4 percent in 2000 to 5.3 percent in 2002. In the big picture, the Latino vote is definitely growing, and will hurt the GOP in the long run, but I doubt if it will reach Barone’s 9 percent until the 2020 election.
Indeed, in the tradition of economist Julian Simon’s celebrated wager with environmentalist Paul Erlich over commodity prices, I’ve been publicly offering since May to bet Barone $1,000 over whose forecast of the size of Hispanic vote in 2004 will be validated by the Census Bureau, mine (6.1 percent) or his. For some reason, though, I haven’t heard back from Barone.
Sooner or later, though, formerly rock-ribbed Republican states such as Arizona and Colorado will follow California’s lead into the Democratic column due to the growth of Hispanics. That’s why the GOP needs to regain control of our borders now, while Republicans still hold a strong hand. If the GOP won’t act soon, then immigration will become a perpetual-motion machine for making more Democrats, just as the unstoppable Liberal Party in Canada uses immigration to create Liberal voters.
An already existing threat to Republican legislators that is almost never discussed is Latino “rotten boroughs.” Non-Hispanic voters of all races are having their votes devalued by the custom of drawing districts according to the total number of residents—including even illegal aliens. This allows Hispanic Democrats to be elected with the dramatically fewer votes cast in their districts.
Latino Democrats accounted for perhaps merely eight percent of the California electorate in the 2002 election. But Latino Democrats won 20 percent of the seats in the Golden State’s Senate and Assembly.
As the illegal immigrant population grows, rotten boroughs are starting to have a sizable impact on Congress, and thus on the distribution of Electoral Votes. For example, in Southern California’s beachfront Congressional District 46 (which is only 17 percent Hispanic), 173,000 voters decided the fate of the surfing Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. (He won again.) Next door in District 47 (65 percent Hispanic) in gritty northern Orange County, prominent Democratic fundraiser Loretta Sanchez triumphed despite just 68,000 votes being cast.
Overall, the eight California congressional elections won by Latinos (all of them Democrats) averaged 80,000 ballots split among all the hopefuls. In the other 45 California races, a mean of 143,000 voters went to the polls. This meant that the average voter in a district that elected a Latino Democrat had a 78 percent greater say in choosing a House member than the voters in the rest of the state.
The fatalistic attitude of Republicans toward rotten boroughs is constitutionally unwarranted. The highest federal court that has ruled rule on their validity, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, outlawed them in the upper Midwest in 1998. The distinguished jurist Richard J. Posner opined, “The dignity and very concept of citizenship are diluted if non-citizens are allowed to vote either directly or by the conferral of additional voting power on citizens believed to have a community of interest with the non-citizens.”
What about the Asian vote, which is 3/8ths as large as the Hispanic vote? That’s a prosperous immigrant group, so doesn’t it vote Republican, just as Hispanics are supposed to when they eventually get affluent?
Back in 1992, Asian-Americans cast 55 percent of their votes for George H.W. Bush and 15 percent for the center-right Ross Perot. Ever since, they’ve been trending steadily Democratic, giving only 34 percent of their ballots to the GOP in 2002.
Nobody is sure why. Journalist Arthur Hu argues plausibly that Asians tend to be slightly more conservative than their neighbors, but they tend to have liberal white neighbors. Many young Asians attend elite college where campus liberalism rubs off on them.
A recent poll of Asian-Americans found Kerry leading Bush 43-36. Kerry was winning among younger voters, Hmongs, Asian Indians (who will no doubt be the most politically influential of the Asian immigrants groups due to their wealth and excellent English language skills), Chinese, and Japanese. Bush was ahead among older voters, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Koreans, and Pacific Islanders.
Another immigrant group that Bush and Rove pursued ardently in 2000, with Grover Norquist’s help, was Muslims. Bush promised during the campaign to ease anti-terrorist enforcement, including eliminating ethnic profiling of Arab airline passengers, a policy that might have been called into question when airports screeners, encouraged by the Administration not to overly hassle Arabs, allowed 19 hijackers on board on 9/11.
Yet, Bush and Sen. Spencer Abraham, an Arab-American, both lost in Michigan, the most Muslim state, in 2000. The 2002 VNS exit poll, the first to offer “Muslim” as a religion to check off, showed that only 0.3 percent of voters claimed to be Muslim.
An order of magnitude more numerous, but still statistically small, Jewish voters cast 3.3 percent of the ballots in 2002. Just as Hispanics are growing, however, the Jewish share of the vote is slowly shrinking. On the other hand, Jews are often said by analysts to be particularly influential per voter, due to their above average degrees of political interest, energy, eloquence, and donations. (In contrast, because of language barriers, Hispanics would appear to be below average in influence per voter, although that never makes it into print.)
Bush did poorly with Jews in 2000, winning only 17 percent, perhaps because Joe Lieberman was on the Democratic ballot. The GOP House candidates’ share of the Jewish vote grew from 22 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in the last election.
A mid-September poll commissioned by the American Jewish Committee showed Kerry leading Bush 69-24. So, Bush is up a little over 2000, but that must still be disappointing considering all the Administration has done for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (The Republican record among Jews is Reagan’s 39 percent in 1980, when some Jews punished Jimmy Carter for the Camp David Accord.)
Despite Bush’s neoconservative foreign policy, a substantial number of Jews tend to be uncomfortable with fervent Christians like the President, as the enormous brouhaha over Mel Gibson’s hugely popular “The Passion of the Christ” showed. Neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer, for instance, just couldn’t restrain himself from insulting his many Israel-supporting allies on the Religious Right who loved the film. Krauthammer published an op-ed entitled “Gibson’s Blood Libel,” calling the boffo box office hit “a singular act of interreligious aggression” and “spectacularly vicious.”
Among Christians, the denominational equivalent of the famous gender gap (the “church chasm”?) widened substantially from 2000 to 2002. The Republican slice of the House vote pie narrowed among white Catholics, from 52 to 50 percent. Among white Protestants, though, the Republican share rose from 63 to 69 percent.
According to Brandeis historian David Hackett Fischer’s famous book Albion’s Seed, WASPs are still divided into four subethnic groups which had spread West across the U.S. at roughly constant latitudes: from north to south, they are New England Puritans, Pennsylvania Quakers, Appalachian backcountry Scotch-Irish, and Southern lowlanders. He expects the bellicose Scotch-Irish and the self-righteous descendents of the Puritans to be particularly at arms this year over Iraq.
“The family tree of George W. Bush is as close to pure Yankee Puritan as any Presidential candidate’s in many decades, but Bush has mastered the idioms of the backcountry culture he grew up in down in Midland, Texas,” Fischer told me. As epitomized by the Scotch-Irish warrior Andrew Jackson, Bush’s adopted culture prefers to shoot first and ask questions later.
In contrast, John Kerry is from Massachusetts-bred and is part Puritan. He does best in New England and its outcroppings such as Northern California. Fischer contended that the Bush Administration’s doctrine of pre-emptive war on Iraq was foreign to Greater New England’s traditional self-image. “It’s very important to New Englanders not to fire the first shot.”
Another traditional aspect of liberals’ self-image is their assumption that they are smarter than conservatives. Indeed, in May, hundreds of liberal websites, as well as The Economist magazine, fell for a telling hoax: a fictitious table of state IQ scores purportedly showing Gore states vastly outsmart Bush states. In reality, state IQ scores have not been published in decades, but school achievement scores and educational levels found in exit polls indicate the two parties are highly similar intellectually, on average.
This year, however, much of Bush’s support comes from the two-fifths of the public who continue to tell pollsters that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in 9/11. This view isn’t necessarily illogical—many Americans seem to assume that’s why the President responded to 9/11 by invading Iraq—but it is ill-informed.
This Presidential election will, of course, be decided in about a dozen and a half “battleground states” such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Immigrant groups tend to be concentrated in out-of-play states such as California, New York, and Texas, so neither campaign seems to be paying them all that much heed.
In fact, 2004 is starting to look like 1968 or 1972 all over again, in part because most of the attention is focused on Great Lakes industrial states where the voters are either white or black, but not immigrant, and are more blue-collar and older than is common these days. Indeed, much of the campaign controversy has revolved around what the candidates did back in 1968 and 1972 during the Vietnam War, issues of intense personal interest to white men of a certain age, but not to all that many others.
No matter what happens this November, in the very long run, the fate of the two parties will depend on the “battle of the cradle” and on immigration policy. In 2000, Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white birthrates, so the Republican Party will remain heavily white.
The fertility of white Democrats is low: of the 10 states with the lowest white birth rate, all except Florida voted for Gore. The Mexican-American birthrate, however, is quite high, so the Democratic Party, which already received 31 percent of its votes from minorities in 2002, is likely to become nonwhite dominated if immigration continues full speed ahead.
A country headed toward permanent division between a de facto White Party and a Nonwhite Party would appear to have a risky future. The only practical way to forestall this fate for an added generation or two of additional breathing room appears to be to crack down on illegal immigration.