Wendell Cox & Joel Kotkin, Real Clear Politics, December 9, 2016
Donald Trump has emerged in most media accounts as the candidate of Anglo voters, with a margin of 21 percentage points over Hillary Clinton among that segment of the electorate. Clinton’s embrace of “identity” politics may have played a role in turning off many of these white non-Hispanic voters, who might otherwise had voted Democratic.
Many Democrats maintain still, with some justification, that as demographics evolve over the next decade, the increasingly diverse electorate will reward their identification with racial minorities. The country, and the electorate, seem destined to become ever less white in the coming decades. Between 2000 and 2015, the nation’s population makeup became increasingly minority, from 31 percent to 38 percent. This trend will continue, with the country conceivably becoming 45 percent non-white by 2030 and 53 percent by 2050.
White Men Can’t Jump, But They Can Still Vote
It may well be that Democrats this year jumped the demographic gun. Even as the white population diminishes, it retains a dominant influence in elections. One reason: Whites tend to vote more. Most critical, the African-American share of the electorate, which reached record highs with Barack Obama atop the ticket, actually dropped by a percentage point in 2016. Latino turnout, widely seen as a surge that would elect Clinton, represented about the same percentage –11 percent — in 2016 as in 2012.
These dynamics keyed the Trump victory, particularly in heavily white working-class precincts in the Midwest, Pennsylvania and Florida, where he secured his electoral victory. Many of the pivotal states’ electorates remain very white indeed. In Wisconsin, for example, more than 80 percent of voters are white, and most of them are not residents of liberal college towns like Madison. This is also the case for Pennsylvania, where more than 75 percent of voters are Caucasian. Even Florida – itself a very diverse state — still has a heavily white electorate, accounting for more than 55 percent of voters.
These patterns will remain critical past what might be seen as their sell-by date for two critical reasons. One has to do with the concentration of minority voters. Nearly 60 percent of African-Americans live in Southern states where Trump won by dominating a very conservative white electorate. Other minority voters are clustered in big cities in the Northeast, which are not remotely contestable for Republicans.
Latino voters, and also Asians, are likewise heavily concentrated, particularly in California, now essentially a non-GOP zone, as well as the similarly politically homogeneous Northeastern cities and Chicago. To be sure, Latinos are also critical in Texas, and Asians too (increasingly so), but for now the Texas white population still outvotes them by a considerable margin.
Another problem for the much-ballyhooed “emerging Democratic majority” lies in one stubborn fact: The elderly, most of whom are white, are not dying out quickly enough for Democrats to win. Although the extension of life spans may have slowed, or even slightly reversed in some demographic segments, seniors are clearly living longer than before.
The Limits of Identity Politics
The Democratic Party made things easier for Trump by adopting identity politics as its mantra. This is particularly maddening when charges of racism are leveled by affluent professionals, academics and bureaucrats, many from elite universities, who are themselves privileged.
Matthew Yglesias, always an excellent window on progressive dogma, insists that “there’s no other kind of politics” but identity politics; Democrats, he asserts, simply need “to do it better.” Progressives seem about as ready to ditch racialist politics as Southern segregationists were willing to abandon Jim Crow in 1948.
The Coming GOP Crisis
For Republicans, identity politics is the gift that keeps giving, but the question is for how long. If you want a nightmare racial scenario for the GOP, just look at California. Since 1994, when the state passed Proposition 187, a measure widely perceived as anti-Hispanic, the Anglo population has dropped by more than 2 million as the state has added 9 million people, including more than 7 million Hispanics. Minorities now account for 62 percent of the population, compared to 43 percent in 1990. The shift in the electorate has been slower but still significant. In 1994, 49 percent of the electorate was Democratic and 37 percent Republican. Due in large part to ethnic change, by 2016 the Democratic margin was 45 percent-26 percent.
In California this surge in minority voters has accompanied a gradual erosion of the white population, a large portion of which has left for other states. The Golden State also has gone out of its way to encourage immigration of undocumented aliens by offering them driver’s licenses, subsidized health care and financial aid for college; 74 percent of all California children under 15 are now minorities, compared to 66 percent in 2000, and 25 percent of them live below the poverty line. This is 2.5 times the white non-Hispanic rate in California.
Despite largely positive results outside the blue coastal states, potentially the biggest long-term problem facing Republicans is in a dominant aspect of geography: suburbia. Trump lost some largely affluent suburban areas like Orange County, where 55 percent the population is Latino or Asian, up from 45 percent in 2000. Perhaps most emblematic of potential GOP problems was Trump’s — and the GOP’s — loss of Irvine, a prosperous Orange County municipality that is roughly 40 percent Asian.
Republicans should be even more worried about trends in Texas, where Latinos are already close to a plurality and the Asian population is surging. There are still enough conservative whites to win elections in Texas — Trump won by 10 percentage points — but the margins will continue to shrink. This trend can already be seen in Houston’s sprawling, increasingly multiracial suburbs. Trump, for example, lost solidly middle-class Fort Bend County, by some estimates among the most diverse in the country, which voted Republican in every presidential elections since 1968.
If this pattern continues, the die may indeed be cast for the GOP. As most minorities now live in the suburbs — a trend that continues to increase — a loss of suburban voters, given the total Democratic lock on inner city electors, would be too much for rural and small-town whites to overcome. Simply put, by 2030, losses in the multicultural suburbs could make dreams of progressive long-term dominance all but inevitable.