The Census Bureau released two important data sets last week that have big implications for U.S. policy – and that challenge some prevailing assumptions for Democrats and Republicans.
The first set of data presents long-term demographic trends widely seen as pro-Democrats: Hispanics, Asian Americans, and multiracial voters increased as a share of the electorate in the last two presidential elections, and White voters – who historically tend to support the GOP – fell to 71% in 2020 from 73% in 2016.
The other data set tells a second story. Population growth continues to accelerate in the South and West, so much so that some Republican-leaning states in these areas are getting more votes in the constituencies. The states that President Biden won are worth 303 electoral votes, compared to 306 electoral votes in 2020. The Democratic disadvantage in the electoral college is only getting worse.
These demographic and demographic shifts powerfully clarify electoral politics in America: The growing racial diversity among voters does not do as much to help Democrats as liberals hope, or to hurt Republicans as much as conservatives fear.
The growing democratic disadvantage in the electoral college shows how the nation’s growing diversity may not help Democrats enough to win where they need help most. Just as often, population growth is concentrated in red states – like Texas and Florida – where Democrats fail to win non-white voters by the overwhelming margins needed to overcome the state’s Republican advantage.
When it comes to Republicans, the widely held assumption that the party will fight as white voters decline as a percentage of the electorate may be more of a myth than reality. Contrary to what Tucker Carlson has repeatedly said on Fox News about the rise of the “white replacement theory” as a Democratic electoral strategy, the country’s growing racial diversity has not significantly increased the party’s chances. Instead, Republicans face a challenge they often take for granted: white voters.
One way to think about this is to compare today’s electorate with that of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush won in landslides. Democrats, no doubt, have benefited from the country’s increased racial diversity since then: Mr Biden wouldn’t even have come close to winning Georgia in November if his voters were as white as they were in the 1980s. Former President Donald J. Trump would likely have been re-elected if he had been able to roll the demographic clock back to the ’80s and reduce the electoral weight of non-white voters. The current wave of Republican-backed laws limiting voting rights may be intended to do just that.
Yet even a return to the racial demographics of the 1980s wouldn’t hurt Democrats as much as one might expect. Yes, the November result would have gone from an extremely narrow victory for Mr. Biden to an extremely narrow victory for Mr. Trump. But Mr Biden is said to have won more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton in 2016, even though non-white voters had doubled their share of the 1984 electorate by the time Mrs Clinton claimed the presidency. Remarkably, Mr. Biden’s fairly modest gains among white voters have helped him as much as the past 30 to 40 years of demographic change.
Likewise, Mr. Bush or Mr. Reagan would still have prevailed had they had to win a 29% non-white electorate, compared to only 13-15% non-white voters whom they sought to persuade to the time.
This is not the conventional story of recent electoral history. In usual history, the growing racial diversity of the electorate has shattered Reagan and Bush majorities and allowed Democrats to win the national popular vote in seven of the next eight presidential elections.
And yet, it’s hard to find a single state where the growing racial diversity of the electorate, even over an unusually long period of 30 or 40 years, has been both necessary and sufficient for Democrats to pass a state out of control. red to blue. Even in states where Democrats needed demographic shifts to win, like Georgia and Arizona, the party also needs significant improvement among white voters to gain the upper hand.
One of the reasons demographic change has failed to transform electoral politics is that the increased diversity of the electorate does not come primarily from black voters, but from Hispanic, Asian-American and multiracial voters. These groups support Democrats, but not always with extremely large margins.
In 2020, Democrats likely won around 60-65% of voters in these demographic groups. Those are substantial margins, but they’re small enough that even decades of demographic change end up costing Republicans just a few percentage points.
The finding from the new census that the percentage of non-Hispanic white voters in the nation’s electorate fell about two percentage points from 2016 to 2020 may seem like a lot. But with Hispanic, Asian-American, and multiracial voters accounting for the entire increase, while the black portion of the electorate was stable, the growing non-white portion of the electorate came at a cost to Mr. Trump than about half a percentage point over a four-year period. .
Another factor is the electoral map. The US electoral system rewards states switching from red to blue, but many democratic gains among non-white voters have been concentrated in the large cities of the often uncompetitive large states. In contrast, many traditional northern swing states, such as Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, have seen relatively little demographic change.
The Democrats’ ability to reverse the Red States has been hampered by another model: the tendency of Republicans to do relatively well among non-white voters in the Red States.
It is often said that Latino voters are not a monolith, and that is certainly true. While Hispanic voters support Democrats by overwhelming margins in Blue states like New York and Illinois, Republicans are often much more competitive among Latinos and members of other non-black minority groups in Red states – y understood these Democrats now hope to switch like Texas or Florida.
Texas and Florida would be truly blue if Latinos voted like their New York or Illinois counterparts. But instead, Latin America’s population growth hasn’t quite had a strong pro-democracy impact in states where the party was hoping to land a knockout blow.
At the same time, white voters are easy to overlook as a source of Democratic gains, given that these voters still support Republicans by a comfortable margin. But Democrats probably improved from 39 to 43 percent among white voters from 1988 to 2020. That’s a significant change, and maybe even enough to cover Mr. Bush’s entire margin of victory in the election. from 1988, without any demographic change.
It’s a little easier to see the importance of democratic gains among white voters at the state level. According to TBEN / Votecast data, Mr Biden won white voters in states worth 211 electoral votes. Democrats like Jimmy Carter in 1976, Michael Dukakis in 1988 or John Kerry in 2004 probably did not win white voters in states worth well over 60 electoral votes, based on an exit poll and ‘other survey data.
Mr. Biden has even won white voters in many states where the growing diversity of the electorate is seen as the primary source of the new Democratic force, including California and Colorado. And it also won white voters in many large, diverse northern states where Republicans used to win and where non-white demographic change might otherwise be seen as the decisive source of Democratic strength, such as Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland, which voted almost entirely. Republican at the presidential level throughout the 1980s.
According to TBEN / Votecast data, Mr. Biden won seven states – Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia – while losing among white voters. In these crucial states, democratic strength among non-white voters was essential to Mr. Biden’s victory.
But of those states, there are really only three where Mr. Biden has clearly prevailed by the margin of the increased racial diversity of the electorate in recent decades: Arizona, Nevada and Georgia. He didn’t need to win any of those states to take the presidency, but he wouldn’t have done so without a long-term increase in non-white voting power and Democratic strength among white voters. .
The story is quite different in the Northern Battlefield States. White voters still make up more than 80% of the electorate in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to new census data. The non-white population of these states is predominantly black; their share of the population has been fairly stable over the past decades. But Mr. Biden won those states so closely that it took the relatively modest demographic changes of recent decades to win in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
It’s just hard to call it a big replacement if Mr. Trump could have won in 2020 if he had done as well among white voters as he did in 2016.