Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Democrats and demographics, part 2

A week or so ago, I posted "Democrats and demographics" arguing that, in California,

the Democratic coalition doesn't need a majority of white voters; it needs a significant fraction, maybe 40 percent of these mostly married whites, and a lot of other voters.

The post was a little lazy. I didn't bother to dig into election results outside of California to report exactly what the national picture of the white vote looked like. In particular, that 40 percent number was just an informed guess. Slate columnist David Weigel has done the digging in discussing the prospects for President Obama's Democrats in 2014:

In 2006 the electorate was 79 percent white. Didn't hurt the party; boosted by the Iraq War backlash, Democrats won 47 percent of the white vote, up from 41 percent in 2004.

Then came 2008, the best Democratic election in a generation. Barack Obama won only 43 percent of the white vote in an electorate that was 74 percent white.

In 2010 the electorate vanilla'd up again—77 percent white this time—and the white vote for Democrats collapsed. They won only 37 percent of it, and only 34 percent of white men.

Now, here's the part that worries Obama. In 2012 the president won re-election despite his share of the white vote tumbling to 39 percent. How'd he do it? Whites made up only 72 percent of the electorate.

Thus, on the national level, Democratic Party victory seems at present to require getting close to 40 percent of the white vote -- and Democrats do just fine (nationally) whenever they exceed that percentage. That's hard to achieve in much of the country in midterm elections in which younger and browner voters are less likely to turn out. In some races, Democrats are throwing money and field staff at the turnout problem. The California experience -- all those community-based and union campaigns -- again suggests that such an effort can make a difference.

I doubt money can build a community voting practice in one or even several cycles, but we do here demonstrate that if funded activists stay with the project, electoral dynamics change. The change may not be in direction, but well placed efforts can speed up underlying trends. The underlying trends continue to favor a Democratic populist electorate for the foreseeable future.

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