By now you’ve heard all kinds of opinions about the reelection of George W. Bush and what it means for America’s continued turn to the right.
Well, here’s one you haven’t heard.
In winning their big victory this week, Republican leaders dug their party’s future political grave.
And they did it over over the same issue that always has haunted American politics—race.
Race is that huge elephant in the living room that many white people swear no longer exists, yet they never take their eyes off of it. So much of our nation’s history has centered on what to do about blacks and Native Americans, and lately Hispanics and Asians, and this election was no different.
Bush and Kerry rarely mentioned race on the campaign trail, yet the loyal followers of each understood perfectly how their policies would affect racial minorities.
Forget what you’ve been told the past few days about Bush and the Republicans making any major inroads into the black and Hispanic vote. Blacks and Latinos, even Asians, voted in greater numbers for the Democrats than they ever have. And they did so because they feel deeply threatened by the current Republican leadership.
For the past few days, the major media have claimed national exit polls show Bush increased his percentage of the black vote from 8% in 2000 to 11% this year, and that he also saw an increase from 35% to 44% among Latinos.
At least when it comes to Hispanics, those exit polls were just as wrong as they were with their overall analysis of the vote.
Latinos across the country voted nearly 68% to 31% for Kerry, about the same percentage as Al Gore got against Bush in 2000, says Antonio Gonzalez, director of the Texas-based William C. Velasquez Institute. The institute conducted its own exit polls both nationally and in Florida.
According to Gonzalez, the polls used by the national media are overly weighted to suburban voters, and since Latinos are the most urbanized of any population group and mostly concentrated in 14 states, the usual exit polls completely undercount Latino voters in the cities.
In Florida, for example, home to a large conservative Cuban community, Gonzalez found that Bush’s Hispanic support dropped dramatically, from 65% in 2000 to 56% this year.
And most important, the overall Latino turnout was astounding. It jumped from 5.9 million voters in 2000 to nearly 8 million this year—an increase of 33%.
As for blacks, even if you assume the small percentage increase in the Bush vote is accurate, and that remains to be proven, the key trend to grasp is the enormous overall jump in the black vote.
About 13.2 million blacks voted this year, compared to only 10.5 million in 2000, according to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. That’s a jump of more than 25%.
What would you rather have if you were Kerry, 92% of 10.5 million votes, which Gore got in 2000, or 88% of 13.2 million votes, which Kerry may have received this year?
Meanwhile, Asians are estimated to have given Kerry 58% of the approximately 3 million votes they cast this year.
According to my rough calculations, blacks, Latinos and Asians accounted for 34% of all Democratic votes nationwide this week.
Minority turnout was so huge that for the first time two Latinos captured seats in the U.S. Senate, Democrat Ken Salazar in Colorado and Republican Mel Martinez in Florida, and one African-American, Democrat Barak Obama in Illinois.
But on the Republican side, those three minority groups represented only 8% of the huge voter turnout for Bush.
“You can’t get many white people to admit it, but the Democratic Party is seen by many Bush voters as the party of blacks, Hispanics and immigrants,” said Bob Muehlenkamp, a white labor union organizer from New York who spent the past few months working for Kerry in southern Ohio. Throw in liberal whites, union households, gays and young people, and you have most of the rest.
Republicans, on the other hand, have become a largely white people’s party.
Muehlenkamp, who was reared in Cincinnati, said he was amazed by how much of the Republican upsurge in the suburbs of his hometown and how much of Ohio’s obsession with ballot security was being driven by anti-black feelings among whites.
Everyone knows our nation is changing rapidly. But the party leaders who count faces and votes for a living know more than most how much it’s changing. By 2050, a majority in our country will trace origins to Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Increasingly, the future face of America sees the Democratic Party as its welcoming home. Republican leaders can savor their immediate victory for now. Their party’s grave gets deeper every day.