Demographics and the 2016 Election Scenarios

Sean Trende and David Byler, Real Clear Politics, August 26, 2015

What share of the Hispanic vote do Republicans need to win in 2016? Is it 44 percent, as some have argued? Is it 49 percent? Or maybe it is as low as 33 percent?

If you’ve followed debates about elections for the past few years, you’ve probably heard analysts give answers to these questions. But the truth is, none of these answers are clearly correct. The reasons are threefold: First, these sorts of projections often hold all else equal from 2012–that is, they assume that the white, black and Asian vote shares won’t move. Second, the projections offered typically involve the shares of the Hispanic vote (or that of other groups) that Republicans would need to win in order to take the popular vote. But, of course, our elections are determined by the Electoral College, and as we’ll see, Hispanic voters are much less relevant for the Electoral College than the popular vote.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these sorts of analyses focus only on vote share–that is, what percentage of African-Americans vote for Republicans, or what share of Asian-Americans vote for Democrats. But the popular vote and Electoral College aren’t just affected by vote shares. They are also affected by turnout. So if the Republican share of the white vote increases, but the white turnout rate declines, Republicans could still perform worse overall in 2016 than in 2012.

So we’ve developed a tool, embedded below, that allows you to simulate the outcome of the 2016 elections, both in terms of the popular vote and the Electoral College. You can read the complete description of our methodology here. {snip}

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There are probably an infinite number of articles that could be written about this. For now, we limit ourselves to four brief points.

First, note the limited electoral impact of Hispanic voters. All other things being equal, Republicans would have to fall to 8 percent of the Hispanic vote before another state flips to the Democrats (they would lose the popular vote by almost 10 points in this scenario). For all the talk of Texas potentially voting Democrat, that doesn’t happen until Republicans drop to 5 percent of the Hispanic vote.

On the other hand, Republicans would have to win 49 percent of the Hispanic vote to win the popular vote (with other vote shares and turnout rates being equal to 2012), but they would still lose the Electoral College, 289-249. Republicans would have to improve to 63 percent of the Hispanic vote before they would win the Electoral College. This is, incidentally, similar to findings from FiveThirtyEight in 2013.

Second, note the impact of a potential reversion to mean in vote share and turnout among African-American voters. {snip}

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Third, we note that Republicans don’t have to put up a historically good performance among minority groups to win the election. Take the 2014 exit polls. If Republicans win demographic groups at the rates they did in that election, they would win the popular vote by around three points, and carry the Electoral College, 295-243. In this scenario, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin vote for the Democratic candidate by three points or less, while Colorado and Pennsylvania for the Republican candidate by three points or less.

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Finally, this model does illustrate the importance of demographic change. If you take 2012 levels of turnout, and insert Barack Obama’s vote shares among different groups from 2008, his seven-point victory increases to nine points. Of course, just as it isn’t clear that Republicans can easily return to 10 percent of the vote among African-Americans, it likewise isn’t clear that Democrats can easily win 44 percent of the non-Hispanic white vote anytime soon. But it is nevertheless a nice illustration of the changes that really are occurring in this country, even if the rapidity with which those changes are occurring is often exaggerated.

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[Editor’s Note: The tool is available in the original article.]

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