The Census Bureau released two major sets of data last week that have major ramifications for US politics – and that call into question some prevailing assumptions for Democrats and Republicans alike.
The first set of data outlines long-term demographic trends widely believed to be in favor of Democrats: Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and multiracial voters grew as part of the electorate during the last two presidential races, and white voters – who historically, the GOP tend to drop to 71 percent in 2020 from 73 percent in 2016.
The other dataset tells a second story. Population growth continues to accelerate in the South and West, so much so that some republican states in those regions are getting more votes for the electoral college. The states won by President Biden will be worth 303 electoral votes, against 306 electoral votes in 2020. The democratic backlog in the electoral college has only gotten worse.
These demographic and population shifts powerfully illuminate electoral politics in America: Increasing racial diversity among voters doesn't help Democrats as much as liberals hope, or doesn't hurt Republicans as much as conservatives fear.
The growing democratic backlog in the electoral college underscores how the nation's growing diversity may not help Democrats enough to win in places where they need help most. Just as often, population growth is concentrated in red states – such as Texas and Florida – where Democrats don't win non-white voters with the overwhelming margins needed to overcome the Republican advantage of the state.
As for Republicans, the widespread assumption that the party will struggle if the percentage of white voters as a percentage of the electorate declines is perhaps more of a myth than a reality. Unlike Tucker Carlson Repeatedly says on Fox News about the rise of the & # 39; white replacement theory & # 39; As a democratic electoral strategy, the country's growing racial diversity has not dramatically 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 the current electorate to that of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were victorious in landslides. Democrats have undoubtedly benefited from the country's increased racial diversity since then: Mr. Biden wouldn't even have come close to winning Georgia in November if voters were as white as they were in the 1980s. Former President Donald J. Trump would likely have won reelection if he could have turned the demographic clock back to the 1980s and reduced the electoral influence of non-white voters. The current wave of Republican-backed laws restricting voting rights may be designed to do just that.
But even a return to the racial demographics of the 1980s wouldn't hurt the Democrats nearly as much as you might expect. Yes, the November result would have gone from an extremely close win for Mr. Biden to an extremely sober victory for Mr. Trump. But Mr. Biden is said to have won more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, even though non-white voters had doubled their share of the electorate from 1984 to when Mrs. Clinton sought president. Remarkably, Mr. Biden among white voters like him just as much as the last 30 to 40 years of demographic shifts.
Likewise, Mr. Bush or Mr. Reagan would still be victorious if they had to win an electorate that was 29 percent non-white, as opposed to the only 13 to 15 percent non-white voters they tried to convince at the time.
This is not the conventional story of recent election history. In the usual tale, the electorate's growing racial diversity broke the Reagan and Bush majorities and Democrats were able to win the national popular vote in seven of the next eight presidential elections.
And yet it is difficult to find a single state where the increasing racial diversity of the electorate, even over an exceptionally long period of 30 or 40 years, has been both necessary and sufficient for Democrats to enter a state of red. turn blue. Even in states where Democrats needed demographic changes to win, such as Georgia and Arizona, the party also needs significant improvements among white voters to get over the top.
One reason demographic changes have not changed electoral politics is that the increased diversity of the electorate comes not primarily from black voters, but from Hispanic, Asian-American, and multiracial voters. Those groups support Democrats, but not always with overwhelming margins.
In 2020, Democrats likely won about 60 to 65 percent of the voters in these demographics. These are significant margins, but they are so small that even decades of demographic shifts cost Republicans only a few percentage points.
The new census data shows that the percentage of non-Hispanic white voters in the country's electorate fell by about two percentage points between 2016 and 2020, may seem like a lot. But with Hispanic, Asian American, and multiracial voters representing the entire rise, while the black share of the electorate was flat, the growing non-white share of the electorate only cost Mr. Trump about half a percentage point over a period of four years. .
Another factor is the electoral map. The US electoral system rewards red-to-blue reversing states, but many democratic gains among non-white voters are concentrated in the major cities of large and often uncompetitive states. In contrast, many traditional swing states in the northern tier, such as Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, have undergone relatively few demographic changes.
Democrats 'ability to flip red states is held back by another pattern: Republicans' tendency to do relatively well among non-white voters in red states.
It's often said that Latino voters aren't monoliths, and that's certainly true. While Hispanic voters support Democrats with 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 – including those Democrats who now hope to run like Texas or Florida.
Texas and Florida would be truly blue if Latinos voted like their New York or Illinois counterparts. But instead, Latino population growth hasn't really taken a strong pro-democracy blow in the states where the party hoped to get a knockout blow.
At the same time, white voters are easy to overlook as a source of democratic gains, as these voters still support Republicans by a comfortable margin. But Democrats have likely improved from 39 percent to 43 percent among white voters between 1988 and 2020, a significant shift, and perhaps enough to cover Mr. Bush's entire profit margin in the 1988 election, without any demographic change.
It's a little easier to see the significance of democratic gains among white voters at the state level. According to AP / 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 didn't win white voters in states worth well over 60 electoral votes, based on exit poll and other survey data.
Mr. Biden even won white voters in many of the states where the growing diversity of the electorate is believed to be the main source of new democratic strength, including California and Colorado. And he also won white voters in many large, diverse northern states where Republicans used to win and where non-white demographic changes might otherwise be seen as the overriding source of democratic strength, such as Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland, who almost completely voted. Republican at the presidential level during the 1980s.
According to AP / Votecast data, Mr. Biden 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 these states, there are really only three where Mr. Biden clearly prevailed by the fringe of the electorate's increased racial diversity over the decades: Arizona, Nevada and Georgia. He didn't have to win any of these states to take the presidency, but he wouldn't have without a sustained increase in both non-white voting power and democratic power among white voters.
The story is very different in the northern states of the battlefield. White voters still represent more than 80 percent of the electorate in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to the new census data. The non-white population in these states is predominantly black; their share of the population has remained fairly stable over the past decades. But Mr. Biden won these states so narrowly that it took the relatively modest demographic shifts of the last few decades to be victorious in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
It's just hard to call it a great replacement if Mr. Trump could have won in 2020 if only he had done just as well among white voters as he did in 2016.