Perry Bacon Jr., Washington Post, October 13, 2022
A clear majority of White Americans keeps backing the Republican Party over the Democratic Party, even though the Republican Party is embracing terrible and at times antidemocratic policies and rhetoric. The alliance between Republicans and White Americans is by far the most important and problematic dynamic in American politics today.
Non-Hispanic White Americans were about 85 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump in 2020, much larger than the 59 percent of the U.S. population overall in that demographic. That was similar to 2016, when White voters were about 88 percent of Trump backers. It is very likely that White Americans will be more than 80 percent of those who back Republican candidates in this fall’s elections.
The political discourse in America, however, continues to ignore or play down the Whiteness of the Republican coalition. In 2015 and 2016, journalists and political commentators constantly used terms such as “Middle America” and “the working class” to describe Trump’s supporters, as though the overwhelming Whiteness of the group was not a central part of the story. In this year’s campaign cycle, recent articles, in The Post and in other outlets, have highlighted Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’s supposed weaknesses with Black voters. This is a strange framing. It is likely that more than 70 percent of White voters in Georgia will back Abrams’s Republican opponent, Gov. Brian Kemp, but fewer than 20 percent of the state’s Black voters will vote for the incumbent. If Kemp wins reelection, it will be because of White Georgians, not Black ones.
Being the party of White Americans has given and will continue to give the Republicans two huge advantages. First, White Americans are about 72 percent of the U.S. electorate, about 13 percentage points more than their share in the overall population. White adults are more likely than Asian and Hispanic adults to be citizens (not recent immigrants) and therefore are eligible to vote. The median age for a White American is higher than that for Asian, Black or Latino Americans, and older Americans tend to vote at higher rates. If the electorate mirrored the country’s actual demographics and those groups voted as they did in 2020, Trump would have won only about 44 percent of the national vote, three points less than his 47 percent two years ago.
The alliance between White Americans and the Republican Party has existed for decades. The last time a Democratic presidential candidate won the majority of White voters was in 1964, a year before Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. The Republican Party spent much of the next three decades courting White Americans, in part, by casting Democrats as too tied to the causes of minorities, particularly Black people and Latino immigrants.
Through the presidency of George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s first term, however, Republican leaders generally distanced themselves from this style of politics — feeling that the old tactics were not only morally wrong but also would doom the GOP in a country with a growing non-White population. But Trump and his allies have brought anti-Black and anti-immigrant sentiments and a focus on White identity back to the center of the Republican Party’s electoral strategy.
Even when Republican politicians are not campaigning directly on racial issues, the party is organized around defending the status quo in America, which is weighted toward White Americans. Policies such as raising taxes on upper-income people and making college free would reduce gaps in income and opportunity between White Americans and people of color. By opposing them, Republicans in effect protect White advantages.